AYER -- An early season snowstorm that made local driving treacherous also cut short the Board of Selectmen's Dec. 17 meeting, with members only making it through part of their agenda before calling it off.
The three members present, Chairman Gary Luca, Pauline Conley and Jannice Livingston, did manage to hold a public hearing on a long-running issue involving the disposition of a fire-damaged building at 37 Willard St.
A house there was damaged by fire some years ago and has been boarded up ever since. Now, close to collapsing and with the possible presence of asbestos and other hazards, it has presented a safety concern for people in the neighborhood.
The fate of the house came to a head recently, when legal procedures for declaring it a nuisance were confirmed and selectmen scheduled time at their Dec. 17 meeting to address the issue.
According to Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand, selectmen reviewed files on the property kept by the Board of Health and building commissioner before taking a vote deeming the structure a public nuisance.
The board held a hearing pursuant to state law and voted unanimously to declare the property a nuisance, said Pontbriand. The next step, through town counsel, will be to notify the owner and begin moving forward with the legal process for demolition.
With the board's finding that the building represents a danger to public safety, the town can move on with an order to have it either altered to make it safe or simply demolished.
Owner Dennis Brennan retains the right to appeal the board's decision with the state's Superior Court.
Although declaring his intention to attend the Dec. 17 hearing, Brennan failed to appear.
In other business, selectmen:
* Voted unanimously to approve the expenditure of $199,000 to begin the conversion process from current residential and commercial water and wastewater usage meters to a new radio system by which DPW employees will be able to read meters remotely. According to Pontbriand, DPW director Mark Wetzel has said with the new system in place, a time-consuming process of physically reading each meter can be reduced to covering almost the whole town in a single day. Such a shortened process would also mean a significant savings for the town. The changeover had previously been recommended by the town's Capital Planning Committee and approved by Town Meeting, which also appropriated the money needed to do the work. The transition process is expected to take three years.
* Determined to continue the town's practice of removing snow from Old Groton Road even though it is not a public way. With neighborhood residents present for the public hearing, selectmen discussed the issue with Wetzel, focusing mainly on winter snow plowing and not on general maintenance and repairs. The board will work on other maintenance issues in the future, Pontbriand said. The town has plowed the road since at least 1967, when Town Meeting voted to maintain both public and private ways. There's still some legal work on ownership of the road that needs to be addressed in the future, however.
Authorized the town's legal counsel to stick to the letter of a comprehensive permit given to Willows Development for its 97-unit Pingry Hill subdivision. According to Pontbriand, the terms of the permit require the developer to pay the town $250,000 for the construction of a new water tank at Pingry Hill after the project had reached a certain point in its buildout. The developers, however, have since offered another payment scheme involving giving the town $10,000 for each of the next 25 homes as they are constructed at the site. Wary that agreeing to the proposal would change the terms of the original permit agreement, selectmen chose to decline the offer and authorized counsel to pursue the full amount. The water tank is needed to help bolster the town's supply of available water.
Selectmen were to address a few other issues, including disposition of the old Central Fire Station, said Pontbriand, but chose to end things early due to the ongoing snowstorm. That issue and others will be taken up in the new year at the board's next meeting on Jan. 7.