Blighted Houghton Street mill houses coming down

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NORTH ADAMS — Demolition has begun on four former mill houses that have been unoccupied and decaying for decades in the Houghton Street neighborhood.

Often cited by neighbors as an eyesore, the 19th century mill houses had been on the city's list of properties to be razed for several years before the historical commission voted for a one-year delay of their destruction in 2014.

After that year lapsed, the Romeo estate, which owns the properties, has begun tearing the buildings down, saving the city at least $80,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds that it will instead use to demolish the Modern Liquors building on State Road.

The estate's plans also include the demolition of a white building on the corner of Houghton and Liberty streets. It will put the land up for sale in the spring, according to Dennis D'Arcangelo, who represents the estate locally.

"I purposely supported [the demolition delay] to buy some more time," said Mayor Richard Alcombright, who along with the Historical Commission took heat from neighbors who wanted to see the long-blighted buildings come down. "It was a long process but it certainly got done."

Members of the Historical Commission had envisioned turning the properties into a walk-in museum that would demonstrate living conditions in a 19th century mill house. Commission member Alan Horbal, who spearheaded the project, argued that the houses were the last of their kind still standing in North Adams.

A year later, the commission members had failed to make substantial progress on the museum, and the property went back on the chopping block.

But during the delay, the Romeo estate made progress on lining up resources to tear down the buildings itself. Had the city done the work, it would have placed a lien for the cost of demolition on the property.

"[Alcombright] was very patient with us, he gave the museum their time, and we saved the city a lot of money by doing it ourselves," D'Arcangelo said. "We wanted to do the right thing and the mayor persuaded us, by giving us time, that we'd be able to do it ourselves."

News of the demolition quickly circulated around social media and was met warmly by neighbors.

"I've always wondered why they stood," said Paul Hopkins, a resident of nearby Brooklyn Street who said he respects the Historical Commission but believed the museum concept was an "impossible situation."

City Councilor Keith Bona, who also lives in the neighborhood, said the demolition will make a "huge difference" by opening up a corner that is en route to Berkshire Medical Center's Northern Berkshire Campus.

"It's been a long time coming," Bona said. "Not that the buildings have changed much in 30 years, but neighbors had their limits pushed on continued delays the past two years."

The Romeo estate owns 12 parcels of land in the city, according to assessor records. D'Arcangelo said his job is to clear their titles make sure all of them are sold. A property on Liberty Street is under contract and will be refurbished, while a Willow Dell property will be purchased and demolished, according to D'Arcangelo.

Alcombright commended the Romeo family for "struggling through this process to find the resources to get this done" and noted that they have continued to pay property taxes. Similarly, Bona said that those who inherited the estate "could have easily walked away with all the cash and left the city with the mess. A huge thank you to them for making the decision that helps the city out."

With the $80,000 or more it had expected to spend tearing the buildings down, the city now plans to raze the Modern Liquors building to allow for additional parking near Noel Field. The extra space is an integral part of the city's plans to build a nearly $700,000 skate park nearby.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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