Derry residents seek action on decrepit buildings Safety, property values cited as board asked to intervene

Kim Thomson addresses the Select Board about two damaged buildings on Middletown Road.

CORRECTION: The board agreed with Lister Sandra Clark’s suggestion to waive the penalty for late filers of homestead declarations this year since the list is very small.

By Bruce Frauman
©2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Eleven residents of Middletown Road and Parsons Lane crowded into the Londonderry Select Board room on Monday evening to ask for action to remove two damaged buildings on Middletown Road.

Kim Thomson said safety issues, “the unsightly effect it has on all of us” and property values are reasons to remove the houses. Thomson also quoted Section 401 of the zoning rules on abandoned structures that states that “within one year after a permanent or temporary structure has been substantially destroyed or demolished, all structural material shall be removed from the site and the excavation thus remaining shall be covered over and filled to normal grade by property owners.”

After a 40-minute discussion, the board agreed to authorize Town Administrator Robert Nied to contact the town’s attorney to determine the next steps. Nied said it was a struggle for a small town to enforce zoning regulations and must engage the courts, particularly the state Environmental Court to have the buildings condemned.

The Londonderry Select Board hears from residents on two buildings that they would like to see taken down.

Nied said the two buildings have a long history that included letters to the owners and promises to remove the buildings. Board member Bob Forbes said one house was damaged by a jet engine in 1976 and the other was destroyed by fire four years ago and the owners had been unable to pay for the needed work.

Forbes added that from previous experience, he believes the state protects private property so the town could spend a lot of money in court and get nowhere. But, he said, laws could have changed since then.

Thompsonburg Road resident Bob Wells said creativity was needed to solve the problem, possibly residents working with adjacent land owners as had been done on Main Street in South Londonderry and with  Butch Jelley’s store. Wells said he would love to jump in, but he doesn’t have the authority. He added that the objective is to get it done, not to lay blame.

Bob Wells, center, discusses solutions to the problem as other residents listen.

Dick Dale said the two land owners have each said that as soon as they get the money, they will get the demolition and removal work  done. Dale said the responsibility ultimately lies with the Select Board. Acting Board chair Mora agreed, saying it comes down to what the board can do about it. Mora also said there were new members on the board and they have taken steps, along with Nied, to address the issue.

One resident asked the board to consider a monetary commitment to zoning enforcement as a cost of doing business  to improve the appearance of the town and attract new residents.

Municipal tax rate up slightly; speed on Thompsonburg Road

In other action, Town Treasurer Tina Labeau said the municipal tax rate of $0.32512 is 1/3 of one-cent higher than it was last year. The residential education tax rate is $1.4434, up from $1.3761 last year and the non-residential educational rate is $1.5436, up from 2017’s $1.5012.

  • Lister Sandra Clark

    Nied said Norris Brothers has applied to the Public Utility Commission for approval of its proposed solar array on Route 100. The clerk of the PUC will accept public comment until July 30.

  • Mora told the board that the emergency generator bids were reviewed by an electrician who did say the best choice from Brookfield Service at a cost of $26,485. The board approved the bid.
  • The board agreed with Lister Sandra Clark’s suggestion to waive fees for late payments of taxes  waive the penalty for late filers of homestead declarations this year since the list is very small. Clark also said the town reappraisal was done and there will be no board of civil authority hearings for this reappraisal, which elicited applause from the board and thanks from Mora for a job well done.
  • The town has received complaints about excessive speed on Thompsonburg Road. Mora said the two traffic counters were placed on Thompsonburg Road last Tuesday. Resident Kelly Capen said she was surprised to see the counter does not include traffic from Under the Mountain Road, which has considerable volume. Mora said that it was her “executive decision” to use the counter to measure speed and not traffic volume. She added that VTrans will be asked to do a safety study of Thompsonburg Road. Dale, chair of the Traffic Committee, said if more data was needed, they would go back to the Windham Regional Commission for further studies. Once all the data is received the committee will report to the town and make recommendations. State police coverage is down considerably, Nied said, which could be a factor in excessive speed.
  • Nied is asking the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to consider insurance coverage for possible damage downstream of the Williams Dam, which it has previously refused. Nied said he is trying to protect the town from liability should the dam be breached. He added that he would like to see a long-term plan for the repair or removal of the bridge. He then cited a 2015 state Department of Environmental Conservation inspection of the bridge said it was in poor condition and recommended an engineer’s inspection.
  • The three applicants for the assistant administrator position to help Town Administrator Nied lacked experience to do the job without extensive training, Nied told the board. He added that two also had limited availability. The board agreed to extend and expand the search. The preferred candidate would have municipal and zoning experience.
  • Former restaurateur Ed Brown will get a hearing this Thursday as part of his diversion. Brown, according to Nied, has been cooperative, but still not agreeing to the terms the town would like. Last fall, Brown painted over a mural on a retaining wall on Route 100. He was eventually charged by Vermont State Police with unlawful mischief.
  • Board member Tom Cavanagh said the back hoe transferred from Londonderry to the transfer station will need new tires. He will get bids on the tires and get back to the Board.
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  1. Tim Roper says:

    It sounds like pulling the community together to raise some funds to help the owners with the cost of removing the buildings might be the best, most neighborly path to a solution.

  2. Robert Nied says:

    To clarify any misconception about enforcement of the derelict houses – both houses in question have been in a state of partial collapse for years (in one case for decades) and the Town has repeatedly attempted to negotiate a resolution with the property owners. The owners have not been fined “again and again” in fact, no fines have ever been levied against the properties.

    While both properties are in violation of local zoning laws, the principal issue is one of public safety. Neither property is secured from unauthorized access so the potential for a curious child or adult to enter the building and be seriously injured by falling or collapsing debris exists.

    There is nothing to prevent individuals, groups or organizations from working with or assisting the property owners to remove the buildings and mitigate the risk to the public. Both town efforts to enforce a remedy and private efforts to assist the property owners could move forward simultaneously and collaboratively.

  3. Leah Stearns says:

    I think as far as tearing down decrepit buildings, maybe they should talk to the town of Springfield for guidance. Springfield has a ton of decrepit buildings and they are enforcing ordinances and have had quite a few buildings torn down and more in the works. It is not an impossible task.

  4. Kelly Capen says:

    In terms of the dam, we must give up ‘pretty.’ Any one who needs our pharmacy, grocery store, bank, post office, art center or restaurant. The plaza and most of the businesses on Main Street. And we also must give up some of our history for safety. The dam no longer serves the town down river.

  5. Kelly Capen says:

    It think we could let Bob Wells move forward with the landowners, with his ability to organize, and the town could take the debris. It has to be cheaper than the lawyer fees, and time spent penalizing people that cannot pay. Our tax dollars at work?

  6. Kelly Capen says:

    What kind of authority would be needed for Bob Wells to jump in and work with the landowners as he did with Butch? Clearly he has access to excellent organizational skills, as seen in the signup to plant watering around the town. Perhaps he/we/they could organize to take the buildings down, and the town could take the debris? Or we could just keep paying the lawyers fee to fine them again and again, knowing full well that if they could have done it alone they would have.