Still Nobody Home in the City's Vacant Buildings | City | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice
Pin It

Still Nobody Home in the City's Vacant Buildings 

Local Matters

BURLINGTON -- Empty buildings are bad for neighborhoods. A Burlington ordinance requires owners of vacant buildings to submit to quarterly inspections, and pay a $500 quarterly fee. Exceptions can be made if owners have secured permits, are actively renovating their properties, or if a property is on the market.

But enforcement has been lax. Several vacant buildings have remained uninspected for years, with the Department of Code Enforcement neglecting to assess a vacant building fee. That changed this summer. After Seven Days ran a story about a dozen abandoned buildings in town, city officials contacted each of the landlords on the list. They inspected all 12 properties and assessed back fees. Many of the buildings are now either on the market or permitted for rehabilitation or demolition.

Although the crackdown came on the heels of the Seven Days story, Assistant City Attorney Gene Bergman says it had been in the works for months. It got a boost from Code Enforcement Director Gregory McKnight, who joined the department in April.

McKnight is determined to enforce the law. So far he has collected fees from eight of the owners and inspired them to take action. Clark Hinsdale Jr., who owns the building at 280 North Winooski Avenue, paid $5000 in fees, according to Bergman. He also renewed a permit to demolish the structure, though no action has yet been taken. Hinsdale did not respond to an email asking for information about the property.

The building at 60 Riverside is also slated for demolition -- commuters may have noticed that Vermont Gas recently cleared the brush from around the crumbling hillside structure. Vermont Gas spokesman Jim Condos says the project has long been on the company's "back burner." Perhaps the recent progress was motivated by the $1500 in fees they paid.

Other property owners have refused to pay up -- on December 15, the Public Works Commission heard an emotional appeal from Don and Carol Albertson, who own the unfinished house at 97 Dunder Road in the city's South End. The Albertsons objected to their $1500 bill, representing the last three quarters of 2005. It's unclear how long the house has been vacant -- the Albertsons have declined to say, and the property has only been on the city's radar since December 2003. Neighbors report there has been little progress in the past 14 years.

Don Albertson, an architect, said he had worked on the project -- on paper. He acknowledged that he had yet to secure any permits, but said he shouldn't have to until his designs are completed. "This code needs to be reworked," he insisted. "It doesn't allow for the realities of development."

During his rebuttal, McKnight noted that the city had waived a significant portion of the back fees, to allow the Albertsons time to deal with a family crisis. The commission unanimously denied the appeal.

Also on the docket was an appeal by Craig Lesage, who owns the graffiti-marred, two-story structure at 33-35 La Fountain St. in the Old North End. Lesage has not paid taxes on the property since he inherited it in 1997. It became vacant shortly after he assumed ownership, and is now uninhabitable. In August, neighbors complained that they often had to clean up trash from around the building and mow the lawn.

This fall, city officials secured a court order to inspect the building and found that portions of the roof had collapsed. Photos from that inspection show considerable water damage inside the debris-strewn space. Inspectors noted that the building's wooden porch is also unsound. After repeated attempts to compel Lesage to deal with the property, the city sold it in a November tax sale for $30,905.64.

Lesage had planned to appeal the sale, but changed his mind moments before the hearing. Public Works Director Steve Goodkind told the commission that Lesage had expressed a desire to renovate the property, and advised that he be given a short period of time to follow through on that plan. If Lesage does not act, he faces civil and criminal penalties.

After the hearing, Lesage explained that several "medical and family issues" had set him back. "Once you get behind the eight ball," he said, "it's hard to get out."

Lesage, who said he owns three other properties, plans to fix up the building and sell it. "We've had some investors who have backed out," he said, explaining the delay.

He didn't seem concerned about the building's appearance. "It's in rough condition," he admitted, "but it's a rough neighborhood anyway." And he dismissed residents who complained about the building's condition. He claimed they generate most of the trash that ends up on his property. "They have a lot of nerve," he said. "They're not good neighbors."

Did you appreciate this story?

Show us your ❤️ by becoming a Seven Days Super Reader.

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

Pin It

More by Cathy Resmer

  • Social Sentinel, Burlington Code Academy and Maureen McElaney Win Awards at 12th Vermont Tech Jam
  • Vermont's Top Innovators Honored at Tech Jam 2018

    Social Sentinel, a Burlington-based company that identifies threatening content on social media, was among the winners of the 2018 Tech Jam awards, presented last Friday at the 12th Vermont Tech Jam. The prizes, given annually by the Vermont Technology Alliance, BTV Ignite and Seven Days, recognize leaders in the state's tech ecosystem. The awards ceremony was the culmination of a busy day at the free career and tech expo organized by Seven Days and presented by Vermont Works. Representatives from more than 50 companies and colleges talked with hundreds of attendees who walked the expo floor. Jeff Couture, executive director of the Vermont Technology Alliance, said he talked with job seekers from across Vermont and outside the state at the event, "including someone, suitcase in hand, who visited from North Carolina."
    • Oct 23, 2018
  • Inspiring Projects to See, Hear and Play With at the Vermont Tech Jam
  • Inspiring Projects to See, Hear and Play With at the Vermont Tech Jam

    • Oct 17, 2018
  • The Tech Issue — 2018
  • The Tech Issue — 2018

    • Oct 17, 2018
  • More »

About The Author

Cathy Resmer

Cathy Resmer

Deputy publisher Cathy Resmer is an organizer of the Vermont Tech Jam, and compiles a weekly tech e-newsletter every Monday. She also oversees HR, helps manage Seven Days' digital staff and oversees its parenting publication, Kids VT. In 2018, she designed and administered a statewide youth civics project, the... more


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Seven Days moderates comments in order to ensure a civil environment. Please treat the comments section as you would a town meeting, dinner party or classroom discussion. In other words, keep commenting classy! Read our guidelines...

Note: Comments are limited to 300 words.

Keep up with us Seven Days a week!

Sign up for our fun and informative

All content © 2019 Da Capo Publishing, Inc. 255 So. Champlain St. Ste. 5, Burlington, VT 05401
Website powered by Foundation