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Crackdown on Vacant Buildings Continues

Local Matters


Published December 27, 2006 at 4:52 p.m.

BURLINGTON - It's been almost a year and a half since city officials began their crackdown on vacant buildings in Burlington, and the campaign has reduced the number of "dangerous" and "blightful" buildings, says Assistant City Attorney Gene Bergman.

Burlington's vacant buildings ordinance requires owners to apply for a quarterly permit, for which they pay a fee and submit to an inspection. In August 2005, the city identified 12 structures whose owners lacked permits and were behind on their fines.

Several of those have since been demolished - including the Abare house in the Intervale, the Vermont Gas building on Riverside Avenue, the house at 280 North Winooski Avenue and the former Little Caesar's on Shelburne Road. One of the buildings, at 76-78 Cherry Street, is being converted to housing for female offenders being released from state custody. The owners of other buildings have paid their fees and secured their permits. The ones who resisted have been prosecuted.

Last month ["A New Owner for an Old North End Eyesore," November 15], Seven Days reported that the vacant two-story building on the corner of La Fountain and Cedar streets in the Old North End was sold in a tax sale to Winston Jennison of Johnson. After repeated warnings, Bergman charged former absentee owner Craig Lesage with six counts of violating the city's ordinance. Lesage eventually pleaded guilty and was fined more than $2400.

Jennison told Seven Days he planned to rehab the building and create housing; he's hoping to sell it to Green Mountain Habitat For Humanity. But on November 29, a city inspection led to an order to demolish the building in 90 days, so whoever owns it will have to take it down by early March.

Longtime Burlington resident George Munson was also on the noncompliant list. Munson owned the vacant historic house at 111 North Winooski Avenue. "George had a long series of violations that he had been ordered to correct," says Bergman.

The assistant city attorney filed multiple charges against Munson, and the landowner settled out of court. Munson was required to pay a $1000 fine, $2000 in back fees, and fix or sell the building by the end of year.

He chose to sell. On December 5, he transferred ownership to Dan Trahan of South Burlington.

Bergman is happy with the change. He says, "The city and the public now have somebody who is committed to complying with the law, and bringing his property into good use."

Trahan, who owns several rental properties in the area, could not be reached for comment before press time, but a student rental survey on the University of Vermont website offers some information about the building's new owner.

Five UVM students have completed rental surveys grading Trahan on his performance as a landlord. Trahan got one "A," for "There are smoke detectors which, when tested, work." But he received an "F" in four categories, including "is concerned with my satisfaction," and "communicates in a prompt, friendly, professional manner." In the category "maintains the property in good condition," Trahan earned a "D."

And the city is about to lose a valuable watchdog - Gregory McKnight, director of Code Enforcement, will leaving his post in January. McKnight, who dramatically stepped up enforcement of Burlington's housing ordinances since taking office in April 2005, will become the director of the Clandestine Drug Laboratory Program in Olympia, Washington.

» Read the full list of 2006 news updates.