The slow fight on blight: North Adams asks for Edgewood Ave. resident's patience
Karen Ferrara has, for years, pressured the city to tear down the blighted home at 45 Edgewood Ave. adjacent to hers. She's found a sympathetic ear in the City Council, but on Tuesday councilors asked Ferrara to wait a few more weeks while a prospective developer attempts, through complex legal proceedings, to buy the building.
"[Developer Ben Svenson] assured us that as soon as that paperwork is complete — and that is what has held up this process — they will begin a significant investment in refurbishing this building, making it livable and hopefully alleviating all of the concerns addressed by Ms. Ferrara and her neighbors," said Councilor Jason LaForest.
On Tuesday, Ferrara described rodents and other nuisances on the property to the City Council. "There's times I can't even park my car in the driveway because the shingles are flying off the roof," she said.
Tuesday's council discussion was the latest step in a saga that has played out for years.
In January 2018, Mayor Thomas Bernard told The Eagle that he had halted the planned demolition of the Edgewood Avenue home while Svenson — the lead developer of the Tourists hotel who has invested in multiple properties throughout the Blackinton neighborhood, including elsewhere on Edgewood Avenue — seeks to purchase the property and immediately invest in stabilizing it.
At that time, Bernard said he would give Svenson about six to eight months to find a clear title and purchase the property, but that time frame was abandoned when officials identified a new path forward.
In June, the city's real estate attorney advised that it could sell its tax lien on the property. Svenson bought the lien at auction for $22,730.
"Since that point in June, he has taken responsibility for carrying this process through land court," Bernard told The Eagle on Wednesday.
Now, April 1 is the deadline for either of the two identified parties with a potential claim to the property to step forward, Svenson said Wednesday. Such a claim is unlikely, he expects, because there is a lien — filed by a nursing home in 1995 — greater than the current value of the home.
After April 1, Svenson and his attorney can ask for a final judgment in land court. If and when that judgment comes down and Svenson is allowed to take possession of the property, he will immediately obtain property and liability insurance and send crews to the site to secure the building.
Svenson and Ferrara both told The Eagle that they have been in regular communication throughout the process.
"I have a lot of empathy for her situation," Svenson said.
Bernard echoed that sentiment. "I have complete sympathy with her frustration," he said. "For me this is is a 14-month issue that I've been dealing with, for her it's been a persistent concern really for 20 years."
But he reiterated his preference for having the property developed instead of torn down.
"'At that point, it's unlikely that anything happens with [the property] but that it grows over with weeds and trees," Bernard said.
Without the "concrete assurance" of Svenson and his credibility as a developer in the area, LaForest said he would be advocating for an immediate demolition.
"This drama has gone on for far too long," LaForest said.
The house was declared a public nuisance by the City Council in May 2017, but the city never followed through with demolition.
Council President Keith Bona credited Ferrara for her persistence. "While she has not gotten what she wants, there is something about being the squeaky wheel. It has kept it in front of us," he said.
The property is just one of several in the area that Svenson, operating either under his own name or as Centerville Sticks LLC, has taken an interest in, often buying them for less than $100,000.
In 2017, he purchased 37-39 Edgewood Ave. from former owner Robert Foley for $12,500, according to records in the Northern Berkshire Registry of Deeds. That same year, Centerville Sticks purchased 33 Edgewood Ave. and 3-7 Edgewood Ave.
In 2016, Svenson bought 19 Edgewood Ave. as Edgewood LLC.
Adam Shanks can be reached at email@example.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.
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