Athol officials explore legal options for fire-ravaged property

A house at 1756 Main St. in Athol, which was destroyed in a fire last August. Following months of waiting with little progress on a site cleanup, the board has voted to have Town Counsel explore legal options.

A house at 1756 Main St. in Athol, which was destroyed in a fire last August. Following months of waiting with little progress on a site cleanup, the board has voted to have Town Counsel explore legal options. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

Athol resident and business owner Dennis Whelpley (far left) urges the Selectboard to take action to accelerate the cleanup of property at 1756 Main St., which was destroyed by fire last August.

Athol resident and business owner Dennis Whelpley (far left) urges the Selectboard to take action to accelerate the cleanup of property at 1756 Main St., which was destroyed by fire last August. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 04-04-2024 5:00 PM

ATHOL – Town officials have decided to begin investigating court options to clean the property at 1756 Main St.

The home at that address was destroyed in a fire last August. Records in the assessor’s office indicate the property is owned by Matthew Alden.

Since then, however, little to no progress has been made in getting the site cleaned up. At Tuesday’s Selectboard meeting, Dennis Whelpley, who owns Dennis Citgo at 1728 Main St., went before the board to ask what is being done.

“It’s an eyesore on Main Street,” he said. “The temperature is going to start to get warmer and the odor is awful. And there are, not mice, but rats. Even the cats won’t go there because the rats are bigger than the cats. And I want to know where we’re at, and I want to get it cleaned up – torn down.”

Stephen Raymond – in his first meeting as the new Selectboard chair following Monday’s Town Election – asked Town Manager Shaun Suhoski for an update on the status of the property.

“Out of the good will of Mr. Whelpley, he allowed a dumpster to be placed on his property,” said Suhoski. “And it was the best intentions of the town to allow someone who had no insurance time to clear the property. We had hoped for much greater progress, and early efforts seem to have dwindled down. There’s been very little progress that I’ve seen over the last couple of months.”

Town Counsel John Barrett told the board that Building Inspector Bob Legare sent a letter to Alden in January regarding the property’s status, adding that the next step would be to send a letter notifying Alden that there hasn’t been sufficient progress on the cleanup and, unless something is done soon, the next step will be to take the matter to court.

“This has taken way too long,” said board Vice Chair Brian Dodge. “I don’t want to send any more letters. I don’t want to give (Alden) 60 days, 90 days. What’s he going to do right now?”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Orange Police Logs, April 25 - 30
Healey honors ‘the human cost of our freedom’ at Memorial Day speech in Winchendon; Athol also marks the day
$338K fraud drains town coffers in Orange
Athol lands $500,000 grant to assess Cass Toy Factory, York Theater
Volunteers raise $10,000 to make Camp Wiyaka director position full-time
Budget, capital item articles given green light for Athol Town Meetings

Board member Rebecca Bialecki said she understood the town showing a little compassion toward the property owner, noting there may be issues holding up progress on clearing the parcel.

“But I honestly think we gave it our best effort to work with him and gave him more than sufficient time to do what he could do on his own,” Bialecki said. “Now it’s time for us to say we can’t look out for the one and ignore the needs of the all.”

Bialecki added that she has received complaints from residents who live near the property regarding “the vermin” coming from the wreckage on Main Street. She then asked Barrett to take steps toward securing a court order to force an expeditious cleanup effort.

Barrett told the board that the situation is complicated and he’d like to take time for further examination.

“The reason being that there was a fire, the building was condemned, and we’ve given him the opportunity to try to remove it, but if (the town) is going to go in there, there are issues of how much it’s going to cost,” he said. “It’s possible we could go in there even without a court order, but I think that would be rather risky given the lapse of time. The biggest thing in the law is you have to give people notice.”

Barrett said Alden could be given a short amount of time, possibly a week, to remove any personal possessions from the property. If there’s no indication that a demolition of the building, the board could seek the court’s permission to place a lien on the property to cover cleanup expenses for the site.

Barrett said it might be possible to get the issue into court within two weeks. The board then voted unanimously to instruct Town Counsel to legal proceedings underway.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.