Chester board bars occupancy at Cummings Rd. residence Health order mandates clean up

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Health officer Amanda Silva, front row aisle right, walks the board through the exhibits supporting the health order.

Health officer Amanda Silva, front row aisle right, walks the board through the exhibits supporting the health order. Meeting images courtesy of SAPA TV

At its Sept. 7 meeting, the Chester Select Board heard testimony regarding the state of the property at 138 Cummings Road owned by John Hennessey, then approved a health order that bans occupancy at the residence until a major clean up is done and mandates ongoing measures to keep it clean.

Town Health Officer Amanda Silva walked the board through 28 exhibits that included dozens of photographs of the residence and the surrounding of the property. Silva said that, for two and a half years, she had been dealing with complaints about accumulations of garbage, tires and other trash as well as hazardous materials. She also noted that the situation had been going since before 2010, when the Agency of Transportation and the Agency of Natural Resources got a judgment order against the property for storage of hazardous materials and operating an illegal junk yard.

The site this August from the town's exhibits

The site this August from the town’s exhibits

Since then, neighbors have complained about the trash, illegal burns, vermin, dumping of tires and hazardous waste. After an illegal burn brought the Chester Fire Department out to extinguish it, Silva along with Police Lt. Tom Williams and Zoning Administrator Preston Bristow documented that none of  three toilets in the house were flushing nor was the water working. Residents, according to one exhibit, were bathing and washing clothes in the stream behind the property.

Board chair Arne Jonynas, who had also visited the site, said that the pictures don’t convey the extent of the problem calling it “acres of debris…”

Attending the hearing via Zoom from Crescent Manor Nursing and Rehab, property owner Hennessey said that he had just learned of the town’s action and felt he was being unfairly treated. Hennessey maintained that he had not received the papers regarding the order. Town Manager Julie Hance said that the papers had been sent to Hennessey’s case worker who had acknowledged receipt of them and said she would go over them with him.

John Hennessey speaking from Crescent Manor

John Hennessey speaking from Crescent Manor

Jonynas asked for comments from the public and neighbor Rita Gilbride called the place “an open landfill of 2.3 acres.”

Gilbride said she hoped that the health order was the beginning of reclaiming the property and that the issue would not “slog on for another 16 years.”

Speaking to the Zoom screen, Gilbride said, “Sorry John, but you reap what you sow.”

Returning from a deliberative session, which took about 20 minutes, the board ordered that the house not be occupied until a number of conditions were satisfied. These include not bathing or doing laundry in the stream, no burning without written permission from the fire warden, certification that the well and septic system are in working order, testing for bacteria, chemicals and alpha radiation on the site, soil testing and proper removal of all household trash and hazardous materials from the site.

Hance told the audience that the town could enforce the health order but would be seeking an injunction from the Superior Court to allow for boarding up the house. She also noted that no one is allowed on the property but that the town could not be on site all the time and encouraged neighbors to call the police if they see people there.

Hance called the order a “huge step” and said that if no progress is made on clean up for a period of time set by statute after the injunction, the town can go to the governor’s office to seek condemnation of the property.

Group seeks Canal Street land for gardens

Chester Community Greenhouse and Gardens President Cheryl Joy Lipton came before the board to answer questions and concerns expressed at the July 7 meeting as she sought town approval for her organization to begin working on garden plots on the 3-acre Canal Street well site. Lipton said the organization would do soil testing and layout as soon as it gets approval from the board with some planting in beds slated for the spring.

Greenhouse group president Cheryl Joy Lipton explains the plan for installing gardens first and a greenhouse later at a meeting in June

Greenhouse group president Cheryl Joy Lipton explains the plan for installing gardens first and a greenhouse later at a meeting in June. Telegraph file photo

According to Lipton, CCG&G can put in shrubs as a border for those neighbors concerned about people cutting through their yards to get to the garden, also noting that “anybody can put up a fence.” Lipton also said she doesn’t see evidence of increased traffic at other community gardens that she has visited.

Lipton said that the garden group would have rules that will include respecting neighbors’ properties, that the greenhouse structure has been tabled for now so the discussion is only about garden plots for the public and that the suggestion of using the gardens at the elementary school is a non-starter since they are not available to the public for most of the day when school is in session.

She also said the group wants to “maintain the positive uses the neighbors have been enjoying,” including space for kids to play and picnic tables for gatherings.

“Thanks for all the work you’ve done,” said Jonynas. “At this point you’re asking for some community gardens to put in. I know there was talk of a legal document, with a lease … and maybe that’s something for the future when it comes to a permanent structure with putting up a greenhouse. But in my mind as one member (of the Select Board), I don’t see why we couldn’t grant a request to put in a community garden.”

He compared the gardens to the ChesterTownscape’s flower pots on public property and noted that the Chester Historical Society is using the Academy Building without a lease and perhaps the garden group could do the same.

Board member Ben Whalen said he had heard from abutters and doesn’t know if he supports the use of this site.

Select board members and greenhouse advocates consider the Canal Street well site in June 2021. The stakes in the ground approximate the size of the proposed greenhouse which is now off the table

Select board members and greenhouse advocates consider the Canal Street well site in June 2021. The stakes in the ground approximate the size of the proposed greenhouse which is now off the table. Telegraph file photo

“I agree with the idea; it’s the location I have a hard time with,” said Whalen.

The Telegraph asked whether the garden group or the town would be covering the liability for injuries that might take place on the site.

Hance replied that a lease – which was the town attorney’s recommendation even after the project was downsized from a greenhouse – would cover that. She said that a lease for a period of time gives the group assurances and a lease would require a 30 day notice to the public.

Lipton said that many of the community gardens she has visited are on town property in communities like Manchester and Norwich. Hance said she would call those municipalities to see how they are handling the use.

Saying she was not speaking as the Town Clerk but rather as a property owner as her name is on her mother’s home on Canal Street, Deb Aldrich asked the board to hold off on any decision to see what the land survey says and for a plan on how the property will be used.

Board member Heather Chase echoed the call for a plan asking if the group wanted the property for three years or five years.

Lipton said the group is asking for the use of the property indefinitely although a lease could be updated at intervals like five years.

Hance said she would talk with town attorney Jim Carroll and other town managers and get an update on the survey and put the issue on the Sept. 21 agenda.

Board talks inclusion declaration, fills Cannabis panel vacancy

In a rather cryptic discussion, board members talked about a “declaration of inclusion.” Apparently the members had been approached about adopting the declaration and board member Lee Gustafson told Jonynas that he had heard that Jonynas had been involved with the drafting of the document. Jonynas said he has had no connection with it but was approached by a group that would like to see it adopted.

Gustafson said that if they were going to discuss it, he thought it should come from the group sponsoring it rather than coming from board members. Chase said she would like to discuss it and suggested putting it on the next agenda. Jonynas said he would share the latest draft of the declaration with The Telegraph so the public could see it. That draft can be found here.

There is a group that has worked to have towns around the state adopt such a declaration, and in the context of that effort, a local group was formed to put forward an inclusion declaration in Chester. According to Nick Boke, who chairs the Chester Inclusion Committee, that group took the generic declaration and made modifications to arrive at a local version. Members then approached select board members privately to explain what they were doing and to solicit suggestions and revisions that Boke said the committee would be “happy to consider.”

As to the next steps in the process, Boke said the committee hasn’t firmly decided what path to take.

The select board also appointed Charles Baird to fill the vacancy on the Local Cannabis Control Commission caused by the resignation of Robert Nied.

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  1. Larry Howe says:

    I had John as a math teacher in high school, he was a good teacher but he was strict. John must be 85 to 90 years old and seems like he is in some kind of nursing home. What I would like to know is who is living in his home. Is he renting it out, are there relatives living there, from the looks of the pictures and the description of the people it seems possible that squatters may have moved in. If this is so it is terrible to try and shame an elderly man staying in a nursing home

  2. Raymond Makul says:

    Chester seems to have a number of residents with excess personal property beyond reasonable limits.

  3. Ron Patch says:

    I had John teaching algebra at the old Chester High School. If I remember correctly, he came out of Connecticut. I wasn’t a big kid, and John was smaller. Conflict!

    I remember my Junior or Senior year, John was homeroom. The first day of school, I sat in the very back of the room in one of the wooden desks we had.

    John came into the room, saw me in the back, and said in a very deep voice, “Patch this seat is reserved for you!” As he slid my seat new next to his desk. Here I sat. I despised John

    Fast forward to 1992 or so, I was developing my property. I hired John for bulldozer and backhoe work. He was still teaching but doing landscape work on the side for extra money.

    Only once did I have to bark at him. After that we got along well. It saddens me to see John where he is. He’s not all bad