After a flood of online chatter about the town’s responsibility for a vacant, burned-out property, officials discussed the limits of municipal authority.
For several weeks, Waterbury residents have taken to online forums to ask questions and complain about the building at 71 Little River Road.
Some people complain about its visual appearance, rightfully identifying it as an eyesore, while others ask why town officials haven’t stepped in to either seize the property or tear down the remaining structure.
“It’s not that the town has not tried. Finding someone who will take responsibility is the issue,” replied William Shepeluk, Waterbury’s municipal manager.
According to municipal records, the property belongs to Frank Sanborn. However, a letter dated Sept. 26, 2018, from the town to SN Servicing Corp. — the mortgage holder for the property — states that “his whereabouts is unknown. It appears that he has abandoned the property.”
For several years, the mortgage holder has paid the taxes on the property.
On Aug. 31, 2018, fire damaged the house, leaving it open to the weather and not secure.
At a Waterbury Select Board meeting July 22, Shepeluk discussed town efforts to deal with the property.
“I asked them to at least board it up. They’ve done nothing,” Shepeluk said.
Shepeluk’s letter to the mortgage company asked “that you secure the building as soon as practicable and take steps to clean up from the fire.”
Shepeluk said the town would have to take ownership of the property to tear down the building — or even to board it up.
“I’m not here making a recommendation at all, but if people think we can just go in and walk on private property and solve this problem, we can’t,” Shepeluk said. “Even if the bank had not paid the taxes a year ago, I would not recommend the town acquire this property.”
Shepeluk noted that, if the town took ownership of the property, it would also become responsible for any hazardous materials on the property, and for their removal.
“Even though it’s in bad shape, the town can’t just go in there and and board it up,” he said.
Nearly 30 years ago, the town select board ordered a property owner to tear down a building on South Main Street, between what’s now Waterbury Sports and Bargain Boutique. The owner complied, and the town did not have to take ownership of the property, which is now a parking lot.