T he village may pursue legal action against an out-of-state landowner who has allowed a local landmark to fall into a state of disrepair.
Mayor Peter Telisky said the village will consider taking the owner of the “flat iron” building on Main Street to court if he does nothing to address the condition of the nearly 100-year-old building.
“We plan to track down the owner and make him responsible,” Telisky said. “We might have to go to court if push comes to shove.”
The three-story, 6,210-square-foot building is located on an 80-foot by 190-foot lot at the southern end of the Amtrak parking lot, across the street from the Whitehall Volunteer Firehouse, and is deteriorating quickly because of neglect.
Garry Bennett, code compliance officer for the village, said Washington County Code Enforcement personnel inspected the building earlier this spring and water is penetrating the roof on the west side (facing the railroad tracks), weakening the exterior wall.
On the opposite side of the building, which runs parallel to Main Street, a covered porch on the second and third stories is falling apart. The railings on the second floor aren’t securely fastened and are starting to hang out over the sidewalk and Bennett said members of the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company have told him the entire porch is beginning to separate from the building.
Earlier this spring, officials put up police tape and placed large cement barricades around the base of the building to keep people away before an accident occurred. So far no one has been hurt and no property damaged, but the building continues to deteriorate.
“The wall is beginning to buckle and it’s only going to get worse if nothing is done,” said Bennett. “And it will become worse this winter. When that water freezes, it’s going to push the wall out further.”
Russ Kiggins, a code enforcement officer for Washington County, said he sent an order to remedy violations to the building’s owner, John Tracy Adams, more than a month ago.
The order states the problem and asks the owner to either make the building safe or to have it demolished.
He said he mailed two copies, including one via certified mail that was returned to his office in Fort Edward. “The owner has not been very responsive. It’s kind of doubtful we’ll hear from him.”
Kiggins said it is up to the village to determine how to proceed.
He and Bennett said one of the biggest obstacles to bringing the building into compliance is the fact that Adams lives in Fair Haven, Vt.
“The basic problem is he lives in Vermont,” Bennett said. “It’s another case of people who live in another state.”
Absentee landlords have been a problem in Whitehall (and other local communities, including Granville) for several years.
Last summer the village had a few dozen properties that were in violation of different codes, many for unkempt lawns and excessive garbage that had not been disposed of.
Several of those properties were owned by absentee landlords who live out of state. Some of those landlords have never even seen the properties they own, managing them from afar. Because they live out of state, getting them to comply can be difficult, and extraditing someone because of a code violation can be expensive, Kiggins said.
This is not the first time the village has had problems with a property owned by Adams.
In the early 1990s, there was a government-funded rehabilitation program that provided money to improve rental properties.
Carol Senecal, who worked with program locally, said the government would help make repairs to buildings and in turn, the landowner agreed to make further repairs.
According to Senecal, officials repaired the roof and installed a new electrical system in the “flat iron” building, but Adams never did any further work.
When he asked for financial help with a property he owned on West Street, he was denied.
Years later, the village had to use eminent domain to seize a property belonging to Adams on Williams Street, adjacent the entrance to the Whitehall Recreation Center.
The property had been deemed a danger to the public, and because of its proximity to the park, officials feared that children may get hurt. When Adams wouldn’t address the problem, the building was seized and torn down, officials said.
According to Washington County property records, there are three additional properties in Whitehall that can be linked to Adams or Adams Family Properties Inc., which shares his Fair Haven address.
Bennett said those properties don’t appear to be well-maintained either, but he’s had very few issues with them and the one time he did, the problem was taken care of within a week.
The village has also had problems with a second property on Main Street, the old Chase building, owned by Charles Freeman, which was barricaded off because of falling bricks, but officials said Freeman has a permit to take the building down and has been working on doing just that.
Telisky said if Adams does not respond to the county, the village will seek legal action.
However, to some extent the village’s hands may be tied. According to Telisky, the way the laws are written, the village may have to tear down the building at its own expense.
“It’s crazy, the process we go through and the position it puts us in. It’s incredible there isn’t a law. It ends up putting the onus on us,” Telisky said.
Multiple phone calls made to Adams for comment on this story were not returned.