Selectboard takes action on Summer Street home

Neighbors' complaints about alleged drug activity at 62-64 Summer St., as well as concerns over the condition of the property's garage, have led the Selectboard to explore steps toward possible demolition.

Neighbors' complaints about alleged drug activity at 62-64 Summer St., as well as concerns over the condition of the property's garage, have led the Selectboard to explore steps toward possible demolition. PHOTO BY GREG VINE—

By Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 06-06-2024 1:31 PM

ATHOL – The Selectboard will be holding a hearing next week to decide what will be done with a dilapidated home and garage on Summer Street that has been the site of alleged drug use.

The property in question, located at 62-64 Summer St., is owned by HB2 Alternative Holdings of New York City.

Melissa Perez, who lives next door to the property, told the board at its meeting on Tuesday, “Squatters have been inhabiting the building for going on two years now. The garage has been checked by the building inspector; it is dangerous. It is bowing out onto my property. The only thing holding that barn up is a tree.”

Perez said she fears the garage could collapse and hurt one of the four children of her second-floor tenant.

“The garage literally abuts my back walkway; if that falls down, someone will get hurt, and I hope it’s not one of the children,”

Perez told the board that the town has sent a hazmat team to clean up trash that was piled up in the driveway, but added that the residents are now just dumping trash in the garage. She said there is a rat problem which has forced her to spend $750 for an exterminator and $250 in monthly payments for that service to check for rats in her building.

“There’s a lot of drug activity,” Perez said. “You can check the police and fire logs; they’re there all the time. There’s drug paraphernalia around my yard, around the yard next door. There’s constant traffic in and out of the house. Had we been able to nip this in the bud two years ago, there were three (people) living there.”

She claimed that “12 to 15” people now call the house home.

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Perez read a letter from her upstairs tenant, Rachael Rhodes, in which she too complained of alleged drug use at 62 Summer St. She said Rhodes is unable to allow her children, all under the age of 10, to play in the front yard due to drug paraphernalia, including used syringes, on the site. Rhodes also noted the frequent occurrence of fights, some of which have led to threats of gun violence.

Another neighbor, Aiden Cowen, appeared before the board to corroborate Perez’s complaints.

Calling the house “an obvious blight on this neighborhood,” board member Rebecca Bialecki asked Town Counsel John Barrett what options the town has to address the problem.

“There is a process whereby the Selectboard can hold a hearing, after giving notice to the owners, and if they find there is a nuisance, they can order it to be abated and the building demolished,” Barrett said. “Quite frankly, given what you’ve said tonight Ms. Perez, that is what I would recommend to the board.”

Bialecki proposed that the board hold a hearing at 8:30 p.m. next Monday, following the Annual Town Meeting, “So that we can make this as quick as possible. We still have a legal notice to be met; probably no one from the owners is going to show up, but at least we will have met our legal responsibility.”

She did note that the owners have a right to appeal within three days, but if they don’t, following that period, the town can commence with the demolition.

The board voted unanimously to support Bialecki’s proposal.

“I think we need to demolish the entire structure, including the house,” said Bialecki, “because what we saw previously – we cleaned up the yard and they moved stuff into the garage. If we take down the garage, more stuff gets packed into the house. All these unregistered vehicles, everything here has got to go. That’s our only option.”

Barrett cautioned against an order to demolish the home at this time, since there are people living there, even if they are not legal tenants. He added that the town could be dealing with an entirely different situation if the owner feels the structure could be saved.

“This has been going on long enough,” interjected board member Andy Sujdak. “We have more to think about than the rights of these squatters. I agree with Rebecca – go in and tear it all down.”

Athol Building Bob Legare recommended that the town obtain an administrative search warrant for the house. If the conditions inside are as bad as the conditions outside, he said, “then you might go further with that. I would recommend bringing police, building (department), Board of Health, wire inspector, plumbing inspector to assess the property and then move forward on the house after that inspection.”

Barrett agreed with Legare’s suggestion. He then asked Perez, Cowen, and other neighbors to provide the town with affidavits which they could submit to the court in order to obtain the search warrant.

“I don’t want to kick this thing down the road so that we’re here in August or September – or January,” said board member Brian Dodge. “Whatever steps we need to take, need to be taken now.”

Bialecki, with the board’s agreement, also asked Barrett to seek permission from the court to secure the building while the town pursues the search warrant.

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