By Matthew Saari

It’s a building that should need no introduction to village residents – it sits but a stone’s throw away from the heart of Whitehall’s government, cordoned off with caution tape as though some horrible crime had been committed there. The windows are boarded up and one brick wall is broken and bowed.
It’s the symbol of the blight Whitehall faces – the Flatiron building.
Yet despite years of effort, village officials have no good answer about what to do about it.
Since taking office in March, Mayor Phil Smith has dedicated a great deal of time investigating the building’s background, including ownership and what avenues the village can take to hold people accountable and remedy the situation. Smith’s inquiries into the property are not new; the village has been attempting to hold the property owners accountable for years, left only with headaches.
“There’s a long paper trail on this,” Smith said.
“Nine years we’ve been diddling with it, but the past six have been intense,” said former mayor Ken Bartholomew. “All we ran into were roadblocks.”
Bartholomew said the village has been investigating the property since Peter Telisky was mayor and Bartholomew was a village trustee.
The efforts culminated about four years ago when officials tracked down the owner, who at the time was more than 90 years old. Because of the owner’s age, Bartholomew said, the district attorney refused to prosecute.
Washington County lists Carl and Sallie Adams of Fair Haven, Vermont, as the owners. The village tried to hold Sallie accountable. Now both are deceased – Carl Adams in 2010, Sallie in 2015. Now the Washington County tax roll lists the owners as Carl and Sallie with attention to John T. Adams.
“Everyone assumes it goes to their heirs, that’s what I assumed as well only to find out that wasn’t the case,” Smith said.
Smith contacted Rutland County Probate Court, which handles the distribution of estates and examines the legality of wills.
“They had no case, no estate for Sallie Adams,” said Smith. ‘The reason is because they (Adams) set up a trust a few years before.”
Smith conferred with village attorney Erika Sellar Ryan in the hopes the paperwork he found proved John T. Adams was liable for the property, but her response proved not only disheartening but ominous.
“She said that type of trust you have to spell out the assets that belong in that trust and of course the Flat Iron building isn’t one of them,” Smith said. “So they’re off the hook. So right now, as far as I can say, it’s unowned…and that’s what scares me.”
Washington County’s records show that taxes on the property haven’t been paid since 2014. Smith confirmed this and said that the property is set to go to tax sale in June. However, even with this development it’s unlikely that the county, or any interested buyers, will move on the property.
The construction dates back to 1950, and the village and county are worried about asbestos contamination. Should it foreclose on the property, the county interjects itself into the chain of title and as such it will be forced to shoulder the cost of tearing down the building and any associated costs of asbestos removal.
Should the village take the property, it faces a similar financial burden.
To merely conduct an asbestos survey, Smith said, he has received quotes as high as $7,500. Both Smith and Bartholomew, during his time as mayor, received demolition quotes ranging from $400,000 to $750,000.
“That’s more than half our village budget, evaporated,” said Smith.
The high cost estimate is based on the possible presence of asbestos. Should asbestos be in the building, demolition crews have to handle the material in a special manner and it has to be disposed of in a designated facility, the closest of which is in Buffalo, said Smith.
In the end, village officials said they feel the problem is exacerbated by the immovable wall of state guidelines and law.
Calls to Adams requesting comment were not returned.



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