Published in the November 11, 2015 edition


LYNNFIELD— Two major developments have occurred in the past few weeks in the town’s pursuit to get the Perley Burrill property at 906-914 Salem St. cleaned up and back taxes paid.

The Bank of America agreed to discharge the mortgage on the property and the building inspector issued a letter to “cease and desist from zoning violations” to Joseph Pedoto, trustee of the Little Joe Realty Trust. The letter orders Pedoto to end the “illegal uses being practiced on a site within the Residence A Zoning District.”

Mortgage discharged

Selectmen Chairman Phil Crawford stated during an update given at last Wednesday’s selectmen’s meeting that as a result of negotiations arranged with the assistance of state Rep. Brad Jones between the himself, the bank, Jones and the liaisons of Bank of America who work at the State House, they were “successful” in getting the first mortgage discharged.

“Brad Jones was a great help in this. The Bank of America was very cooperative with this. I called them on a Tuesday after the meeting that we had. By the following Friday they had the mortgage discharged,” Crawford said.

Discharging this large mortgage was “one of the impediments for the current owner moving forward with cleaning up the property,” Crawford said, adding, “They have been notified that this has been done and we are now in negotiations with the second mortgagee. They are working with Global Oil to get that one also dissolved or renegotiated.”

“Once that’s taken care of then they can move forward, hopefully in the very near future, in razing those buildings and cleaning up that property,” Crawford continued. Part of reason the owner had been reluctant to clean up the site was the fear that once money was spent on it the property would be foreclosed upon by the bank with no way to recoup the investment.

Crawford would like to see a plan in place by the owners by Dec. 1 to have the buildings razed and the site cleaned up and tested. This would be followed by an application to the town by potential new owners for the redevelopment of the property, he said.


Over $200K in back taxes owed

In addition to the potential environmental and safety hazards the site poses to the immediate neighborhood in particular and the town in general, the town also has a financial interest in getting the site cleaned up, sold and redeveloped in the form of a lien against the property for back property taxes owed for over eight years.

The Villager requested the updated tax lien information from the tax collector’s office last week. According to Tax Collector Christine O’Sullivan, Pedoto currently owes the town $204,168.12 in back taxes through the most recent quarterly tax bills that were due on Nov. 2, 2015.


Cease and desist issued

Concurrent with these negotiations to discharge the mortgages, Crawford said Building Inspector Jack Roberto and Town Counsel Tom Mullen “put together a cease and desist order for the owners to stop any and all business activities on the property.”

The cease and desist was sent to Pedoto by certified mail on October 15. Copies of the order were also sent to Pedoto’s attorney, Joseph L. Brodigan Jr., as well as Rudy Landscaping and Construction, Viking Oil Co. and the Board of Selectmen.

A 14-day turnaround period allowed Pedoto to either comply with the cease and desist request or for him to file an appeal with the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) prior to enforcement action being initiated by Roberto. Such actions, as spelled out in the letter, would include fines and the filing of a suit for “injunctive relief” in Essex Superior Court to “prevent the conduct of any use on the premises except those permitted as of right in the Residence A Zoning District.”

As of press time, Pedoto had not acknowledged this cease and desist order. Noting that the 14-day window had closed, Crawford said, “We are going to enforce that this week and make sure they are complying. Once we hear back from the attorneys for the owners we will move forward with the next step.”


Multiple zoning violations

Roberto’s letter demanded that Pedoto “cease and desist from permitting the premises to be used for any purpose not authorized in the Residence A Zoning District. In particular, this letter constitutes an order that the premises not be used as a transfer station for heating oil or a parking lot for heating oil trucks and/or other vehicles; as a parking lot and/or contractor’s yard for contractors, including landscaping contractors; and as a lot for the display and sale of motor vehicles.”

Roberto’s letter acknowledged that a gas station known as “Perley Burrill’s” had been operated on the premises “as a prior, nonconforming use.” However Pedoto had informed the town’s Fire Department that this use had “ceased not later than December 2011” and “observation has confirmed” that to be case. Under the town’s Zoning Bylaws, section 11.1, “prior, nonconforming uses cease to exist if abandoned for a period of two years, as the gas station has been,” Roberto’s letter stated.

The grandfathered protection lapsed as of December 2013 and since that time Roberto stated in his letter that he has personally observed a number of repeated zoning violations on the site, including its use as as a parking lot for heating oil trucks and a transfer station for heating oil by Viking Oil Co.; as a parking lot and contractor’s yard for contractors, including Rudy Landscaping and Construction; and as a used car lot for the display and sale of miscellaneous vehicles.

“None of the uses … is permitted in the Residence A Zoning District and none has the prior, nonconforming use status previously enjoyed by Perley Burrill’s gas station,” Roberto stated. Furthermore, he noted that since the premises had never been licensed by the Board of Selectmen “for the sale of second hand motor vehicles” as required under MGL c. 140, sec. 59, “quite apart from the fatal zoning problem, no used car dealer has the right to operate there.”

The final zoning violation cited by Roberto pertains to signage on the site, which had only been allowed on the premises as an “accessory use” to the gas station; therefore, it was stated in the letter that these signs have also “lost their prior, nonconforming use status.”


Next steps

Crawford said if the next steps in this process of removing the dilapidated buildings, testing the premises for environmental hazards and setting up a plan to propose an appropriate redevelopment of the site to the town are not accomplished “in a timely manner or they hit some serious roadblocks, we are also considering taking it on tax title.”

Crawford explained that “there are some provisions under the tax title laws that the town can take it without taking on the environmental liability.”

“It is moving forward. The goal here is to have those buildings taken down, have the property secured and have the safety hazard resolved within the next month or two,” Crawford said.


Barrett recuses himself

Prior to the discussion, Selectman Christopher Barrett, a resident of Fairview Avenue, disclosed that because he is an abutter to the Perley Burrill property he would be taking a seat in the audience. He also stated that he would be retaining his right to participate in the process of resolving the Perley Burrill matter as a resident of the town.

Barrett’s decision to sit in the audience during the discussion rather than remain seated at the selectmen’s table was the result of his discussions with the state Ethics Commission and Town Counsel Thomas Mullen on how he could retain his right as a citizen to remain involved in a topic that would affect him and his family while not having an appearance of an ethical conflict.

In October, a clerk magistrate found no probable cause in a conflict of interest violation complaint filed against Barrett by Mark McDonough, 167 Bourque Rd., who alleged Barrett should not be allowed to speak on the Perley Burrill case or even be in the hearing room while it was being discussed by the board. The case was dismissed.

Barrett’s attorney, Michael Smerczynski, successfully argued that a conflict of interest did not exist for Barrett because the problems the town is trying to resolve also affect a “substantial segment of the general population,” which is defined as 10 percent of the community. Furthermore, no deliberations or motions pertaining to the case were made during the two meetings in question by McDonough, which consisted of informational updates on the status of the property.


Terranova can participate

The board was having difficulty attaining a quorum because Selectman Tom Terranova had been recusing himself from discussions on Perley Burrill since June 2013 due to a prior professional relationship with Pedoto as his accountant. He recently filed an updated disclosure form with the Town Clerk after it was determined  enough time had elapsed during which he has had no involvement with Pedoto. He can now participate in decisions the board needs to make to resolve Perley Burrill.