Building by Building, Fitchburg Clearing Away Decay

August 7, 2018

A demolition crew begins work to tear down an abandoned house at 45 Pierce Ave. in Fitchburg Monday. The home is one of 10 "problem properties" the city will demolish this summer. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / JOHN LOVE Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

FITCHBURG -- A dilapidated one-story home demolished Monday was the first in a round of tear-downs aimed at reducing neighborhood blight.

“We want to reclaim and take back our neighborhoods and this is one way of doing it,” said Mayor Stephen DiNatale.

On Monday, DiNatale visited 45 Pierce Ave. An excavator stood alongside the home, whose door was boarded up and whose green paint peeled off the wooden siding.

Bags containing cans of paint from the basement and cleaning supplies from the kitchen had been removed.

The city took possession of the home, which was built in 1957, two years ago, said DiNatale’s Chief of Staff A.J. Tourigny.

The home is one of 10 “problem properties” the city will demolish this summer, according to Executive Director of Community Development Tom Skwierawski. All but one of them came under the ownership of the city through the tax-title process, he said.

The city considered demolishing 13 properties as part of the initiative to combat neighborhood blight late last year.

Four properties -- 151 Beech St., 12 Foster St., 4 Upton St., and 130 Lunenburg St. -- were initially expected to be torn down but were removed from the list. Added to the list was 16 Market St., according to Skwierawski.

The Problem Property Task Force treated demolition as a “tool of last resort.” The body looked at selling the eyesore properties to a private entity and incentivizing the homeowner to perform repairs.

That board along with the NICE Committee, a city committee of departments heads, identified “problem properties” by weighing such things as complaints from the Board of Health, police and fire.

This most recent round of demolitions marks a continuation of an effort led by DiNatale to eliminate blight in Fitchburg, he said. Last year, an old fire station and abandoned school were demolished.

The properties that will be torn down this summer are located in “key neighborhoods” and gateways to the city, said Skwierawski.

How the land on which the condemned buildings sit will be eventually be developed depends on location and quality of the parcels, he said.

Smaller parcels may be sold to neighbors as side lots or for parking, he said.

The property at 45 Pierce Ave., which had been barely visible from the road before overgrown vegetation was cleared, sits just beyond the Leominster line. It is one of two on the list that is zoned for commercial development.

Skwierawski said representatives from nearby medical services businesses saw demolition begin Monday and expressed interest in the property.

“This one could possibly return to the commercial tax roll, and we’ve got another one on River Street that could possibly do the same,” Skwierawski said.

The owner of the Pierce Ave. home had died and a squatter was living in a trailer on the property, said Tourigny.

The 8,000 square foot lot is assessed at $100,000, according to Skwierawski.

Its value is boosted by its proximity to Twin City Plaza, said Senior Project Manager Amy LeBlanc.

The cost of demolishing the ten structures is $496,003, according to Skwierawski.

Of that, $240,391 was covered by a federal Community Development Block Grant, and the remainder by the city.

“The investment within the community development office has been matched by the mayor’s office for a few years now, which has led to an unprecedented capacity to take down buildings in the city,” he said.

Jay-Mor Enterprises is the contractor for all 10 demolition projects. Owner Bob Morgan said he expects it will take up to a week to demolish each property, clean up the site, level the land and seed the area.

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