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Correspondent

SHIRLEY — An abandoned old house at 56 Fredonian Street has been a neighborhood nuisance and an eyesore for many years. Hopelessly dilapidated, it looks like a haunted chicken coop that could collapse any minute. The house is due to be demolished, but there have been delays. Now, it seems the wrecking ball is getting closer.

The town has started court proceedings to seize the property, subsequent to a long-standing tax debt of $70,000, according to town administrator Kyle Keady. Litigation is ongoing. Meantime, the building is a hazard and the town has the right to tear it down, he said.

Some time ago, the Board of Selectmen authorized Keady to find a contractor to do the demolition work and to use up to $25,000 from MCI (state prison mitigation) funds to pay for it. The intent was to reimburse the MCI account later, after selling the property.

But there’s a hitch. As Keady explained to the selectmen at their Jan. 29 meeting, the state Department of Environmental Protection agrees the house has to go, but it also requires that asbestos inside must be removed first. Apparently, the asbestos installation was relatively recent. “They know who put it there,” Keady said. “But that individual doesn’t have the means to pay for removing it.”

The asbestos removal raises the demolition cost estimate another $1,000 to $1,500, Keady said, adding that the “responsible party” will be billed for that cost. To guarantee payment, a lien may be placed on that person’s home, he said.

To ensure that the asbestos is not just taken out of the house and reused someplace else, Selectman Leonardo “Chip” Guercio proposed that the same unnamed person sign a document stating the material has been removed and disposed of properly.

Selectman Charles Shultz said he, too, wanted to see the house razed, but not before firmly establishing that the property would be usable — and thus saleable — afterward, and asked if the lot would be “grandfathered” for building purposes. “I don’t want the town to get stuck with a worthless property,” he said.

“That won’t be a problem,” Keady said. The lot, tiny as it is, should be buildable once the house is gone because the foundation would still be in place, he explained.

Shultz cited boundary and set-back problems that might require variances. “Who’s going to want it?” he asked. With zoning issues added to the cost of back taxes and demolition, the property isn’t likely to attract buyers, he said.

Keady said that, for now at least, the issue wasn’t property value but public safety. The board agreed, authorizing him to find a funding source for the asbestos removal, either MCI or another “non-appropriated” town fund. Then, demolition can proceed.

According to town records, the house was built around 1900. Anecdotal history has it the building once housed mill workers. The house may at some point have been subdivided into rental units, but longtime Fredonian Street residents can’t recall anyone living there. Board of Assessors’ records show that the property changed hands in 1986, when owners Joseph and Pauline Outing sold it to Thomas W. McNiff Jr., the current owner of record.