A long-vacant house in Burlington's South End that was destroyed by fire was finally demolished on Tuesday following a three-year battle between its owner and the city. Burlington's planning and zoning office had asserted that the house, at 189 South Champlain St., was once part of the city's historic waterfront district and refused to allow it to be torn down.
Developer Anne Rothwell, who purchased the house four year ago, claims it was already in "tear-down" condition when she acquired it. Rothwell had initially planned to renovate the space and tack on an addition, when squatters ripped plywood and polycarbonate off the windows and doors, littered the inside with beer cans, and used condoms and drug paraphernalia. One even ran an extension cord from the house to a shed and set up camp. In December 2009, someone finally broke in and started a fire for cooking or warmth, which gutted the house and rendered it uninhabitable.
Ordinarily, a building in a historic district must be rebuilt and occupied within 18 months. But as Rothwell explains, there's a clause that when the owner of a historic property is the victim of malicious mischief beyond the owner's control, the building can be torn down and not rebuilt. It wasn't until the city's building inspector recently declared the building unsafe that a demolition permit was finally issued.
Though Rothwell is relieved that she can finally move forward on developing the property, which has been an eyesore to neighbors for years, she's not popping the champagne cork just yet. In addition to still paying off the mortgage on the house, she's invested at least $70,000 in the site, including paying off code violations every quarter as well as a $2000 annual "vacant building fee" to the city.
"I just never dreamed that this opposition would come up," she says. "They were saying that I did not take care of the house and allowed people to break in and start the fire."
Once demolition is completed, Rothwell plans to build a "green duplex" on the site. "If I can," she adds.