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Board of Health decision could oust 36 Ayer motel residents

  • Caza Manor Motel in Ayer, whose residents may have to leave based on instructions from the Board of Health. Resident and former Ayer selectman Frank Maxant. SUN/Julia Malakie

  • Caza Manor Motel in Ayer, whose residents may have to leave based on instructions from the Board of Health. Meaghan Therrien’s husband, Ron Therrien, just returned from shopping with their daughter Remi, 2, who’d fallen asleep. SUN/Julia Malakie

  • Caza Manor Motel in Ayer, whose residents may have to leave based on instructions from the Board of Health. Resident Meagan Therrien in her family’s one-bedroom cabin unit, with sons Stephen, 9, left, and Chris, 11, rear, and daughter Abigail, 8 months. SUN/Julia Malakie

  • Caza Manor Motel in Ayer, whose residents may have to leave based on instructions from the Board of Health. Residents Frank Maxant and Meagan Therrien talk in front of Therrien’s cabin. SUN/Julia Malakie

  • Caza Manor Motel in Ayer, whose residents may have to leave based on instructions from the Board of Health. Resident, from left, Heather Smith and her boyfriend Matthew Green, who live in a one-bedroom apartment in the three-family house, and Angela Nordby, who lives in a one-bedroom cabin unit with her husband and two kids. SUN/Julia Malakie

  • Caza Manor Motel in Ayer, whose residents may have to leave based on instructions from the Board of Health. Six-year resident Angela Nordby, right, who lives in a one-bedroom cabin unit (9A, left rear), with her husband and two kids, talks to Sun reporter as Heather Smith, rear, listens. Smith lives in a one-bedroom apartment in the three-family house. SUN/Julia Malakie

  • Caza Manor Motel in Ayer, whose residents may have to leave based on instructions from the Board of Health. Resident Stephen Therrien, 9, plays with his remote control car, near the unused swimming pool. SUN/Julia Malakie

  • Caza Manor Motel in Ayer, whose residents may have to leave based on instructions from the Board of Health. Kitchenette in a studio cabin unit. SUN/Julia Malakie

  • Caza Manor Motel in Ayer, whose residents may have to leave based on instructions from the Board of Health. Resident Meagan Therrien with son Stephen, 9, and daughter Abigail, 8 months, in the stroller. SUN/Julia Malakie

  • Caza Manor Motel in Ayer, whose residents may have to leave based on instructions from the Board of Health. Six-year resident Angela Nordby, who lives in a one-bedroom cabin unit with her husband and two kids. SUN/Julia Malakie

  • Sign at Caza Manor Motel in Ayer, whose residents may have to leave based on instructions from the Board of Health. SUN/Julia Malakie

  • Caza Manor Motel in Ayer, whose residents may have to leave based on instructions from the Board of Health. From left, Stephen Quinn of Ayer, a friend of the owner and Frank Maxant, resident Frank Maxant, owner Steve Wentzell of Ayer, and residents Dena Hawkins and her partner Stephen Larose. SUN/Julia Malakie

  • Caza Manor Motel in Ayer, whose residents may have to leave based on instructions from the Board of Health. Resident Tara Manchester talks about her feeling of helplessness. SUN/Julia Malakie

  • Caza Manor Motel in Ayer, whose residents may have to leave based on instructions from the Board of Health. Six-year resident Angela Nordby, right, who lives in a one-bedroom cabin unit with her husband and two kids, talks to Sun reporter as Heather Smith, rear, listens. Smith lives in a one-bedroom apartment in the three-family house. SUN/Julia Malakie

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

AYER — The fate of 36 residents at Mimi’s Place, among them a 78-year-old veteran, will be on the line at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday when the town Board of Health considers whether to revoke the license of owner Stephen Wentzell.

Mimi’s Place, formerly known as the Caza Manor Motel, is more than a place people call home for a night or two. For many of those who stay there, it is their home and has been for a few years. Residents pay their rent weekly but with their payments, all utilities are covered.

Wentzell said his guests’ extended stays have become an issue for the Board of Health. The board’s public hearing could decide if Wentzell is allowed to continue having a license to operate the property. On the property there are 20 units, 10 of which are cabins. There is also a three-family home, an owner’s suite and six units set up like a traditional motel. All have kitchens and residents say they are are kept up.

The board says the issue has come to a head based on factors including but not limited to “public health and safety concerns, police activity, long-term year round occupancy at the establishment, and failure to comply with the board’s prior conditions set forth by the Board of Health in the February 18, 2021 license.

Wentzell said the “long-term year-round occupancy” was something he was aware of when he took over the property in September 2020 and it was something he said the town’s leadership was aware of as well.

However, within a month of his ownership, Wentzell said he started feeling pressure to make the property “more transient.” The Board of Health stipulated he could not have anyone staying beyond 90 days and that he must evict those who had overextended the limit.

Wentzell said even if he wanted to, he was prohibited from ousting residents during the state’s eviction moratorium.

Additionally, evicting people is not something in his nature. Wentzell, 61, has a background in social work and advocating for the homeless. The motel’s previous owner sold it to Wentzell because it was his intent to run the property the way it had always been run. Wentzell ponders if the town may be retaliating against him for a town forum he hosted several years ago, looking to establish a homeless shelter in Ayer.

“It was in the same family since the 1950s and never a word, never anything. The same woman from the Board of Health came out for 20 years to inspect the property and she would obviously know some of the same people were there. She would know if there was anything out of it. This is just very strange,” Wentzell said.

Saturday afternoon, residents fretted over their uncertain futures.

Tara Manchester, standing in the back parking lot of Mimi’s Place at 96 East Main St., quickly became emotional speaking about the situation, on the verge of tears.

Manchester is the survivor of a long-term domestic violence situation and is disabled. Throughout the past 16 years, Manchester has tried to obtain what could be considered permanent housing. She is still on the waiting list for housing in different Nashoba Valley communities.

She feels ignored by her local government and state legislators.

“They want to put us all out but they don’t know what we live through,” she said. “They don’t know what any of us are going through. You’ve got me, a victim of domestic violence and totally handicapped, that has nowhere to go. I’ve got no family. I’ve got no money.”

“You can’t save money. Because the federal government takes that from you. You’re allowed to have only a small bit of money in the bank when you’re disabled, otherwise the federal government takes it all. It’s like what do we do? I’m at my wit’s end. I don’t know what to do anymore.”

Meagan Therrien lives in one of the cabins with her husband and her four children. Therrien, standing on her front steps as some of the neighborhood children play outside, moved to Mimi’s Place from Townsend. If she is allowed to stay, she will have been at the Mimi’s for three years in February. Her children attend the public schools. Mimi’s Place is her registered address.

She has tried to find affordable housing in the Nashoba Valley but has had a tough time doing so. Therrien said Littleton and Groton had at least 10-year waits, while Ayer’s wait was closer to eight. Given the situation of her in-laws, Therrien and her family need to be in the area.

“We’re actually the main caretakers of his grandparents and they live here in town so we kind of need to be close to them. Because they’re not ones to call 911 if there was an emergency, they would call us before they call them,” Therrien said.

Therrien said her struggles are not because of her family’s finances.

“Especially with most of us here, it’s not always a money issue. It’s credit, and then my husband has an eviction and renters will see that and just not look any further into it,” Therrien said. “We had offered somebody six months of rent up front and they still wouldn’t rent to us because of the eviction. And then the pandemic happened, but right before that, we had kind of got to a point where you just need to take a break because all of the no’s or just getting completely ghosted and not having your calls returned. It really gets to you after awhile.

“This is kind of our last option that we’re already in, so that’s a scary thing,” Therrien said.

Therrien’s kids often play with Angela Nordby’s children. Nordby lives across the paved courtyard. Both mothers said their children are not treated any differently in school, they have friends, some of whom have even visited them before.

Nordby has two children in Ayer’s public school system. She lives at Mimi’s Place with her children and her husband. It has been home for the past six years. As with Therrien, the issue isn’t so much the ability to pay rent as it is having established credit.

“My kids have been in the school, the school system forever so I don’t want to move to Fitchburg or Leominster or anything like that. I don’t want to move my kids out of the school system. I have one sophomore in high school and one in seventh grade. It’s just tricky,” Nordby said. “I never imagined when he took over as new ownership that they would hassle and hound him so much because you never heard anything like that with the old owners, ever.”

Nordby, from Pepperell, lived in Tennessee for a while. When she moved back, she didn’t imagine she would have the difficulty she has had with finding housing. She lived in Fitchburg before coming to Ayer and prefers the small town community feeling.

Mimi’s Place is also home to Vietnam-era veteran and former selectman Frank Maxant. If forced to leave, Maxant said he has “very few” alternatives. He is 78 years old and if forced to leave, he hopes he can find a situation where he is able to share a house with somebody and can act as the handyman.

Although he is facing the prospect of the Board of Health shutting down his property, Wentzell is receiving calls from residents facing eviction at Devenscrest looking for a place to go. He says he is forced to turn them away unless they can stay for the shorter window.

As Wentzell looks to Wednesday night’s public hearing, he hopes the Board of Health will find a way to work with him. In an ideal scenario, he can continue to operate Mimi’s Place the same way it always has been.

However, if they won’t, Wentzell has a second option he hopes the board would consider before shutting him down. The plan would be to convert the cabins and the three-family house into full-time apartments, leaving just six motel rooms he can rent out for more “transient” stays.

If Wentzell has the property’s license revoked, it would have an impact on him as a business owner. However, he is most concerned about the people who live there.

“They have this hanging over their head, so they’re going to be thrown into the street. That’s just a very cruel thing to do,” Wentzell said. “The majority of people work, they’re good people and they are nice neighbors.”

The Board of Health was scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday and a decision had not been made before the Nashoba Valley Voice’s print deadline.