Published in the September 23, 2015 edition
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
LYNNFIELD — In the months that have passed since five underground fuel storage tanks were removed from the Perley Burrill property on Salem Street virtually no progress has been made to get the site presentable and eventually sold.
The sale of the property is essential if the town, as one of several lien holders, is ever going to get the back taxes it is owed dating back to 2007.
The tanks were removed last winter, but not without a fight, Selectmen Chairman Phil Crawford recalled in an update he gave on the property at the board’s last meeting.
“We had a court order to force him to finally take out the tanks. They didn’t do anything voluntarily. They’ve been fighting us the whole way,” he said of property owner Joseph Pedoto, trustee of Little Joe Realty Trust.
In those court proceedings, Pedoto and his attorney had maintained that he does not have the money to improve the property or pay his taxes or mortgage. The town had a court order that would have sent Pedoto to jail for contempt of court if he did not get the tanks removed.
The tanks, which were emptied of their contents back in 2011, were single-walled. The town deemed them to be a potential hazard to the environment and leaving them in place without a way to monitor whether they had rotted and leaked into the soil would endanger the environment and the townspeople. A judge agreed.
“They brought in Michael Touchette who’s been working on the property. He’s the one, I believe, that paid to take the tanks out. They made some arrangement. He has a desire to build a couple of houses on the property,” Crawford said.
“In the meantime, there are dilapidated buildings with asbestos. There is a health hazard, a safety hazard, and an environmental hazard going on there. And nothing’s happening,” Crawford added.
Frustrated by the lack of action, Crawford recently called Pedoto’s attorney, Joe Brodogan, to get some answers. “He said it was Bank of America,” Crawford said, explaining that the bank “has not been agreeable to releasing their liens on the property or making any concessions on their mortgage.”
To help move things along, Crawford said he has “asked our state legislators to arrange a meeting with the Bank of America and Mr. Brodogan and myself. We’ll sit down and see if we can work out something with the bank to have some circumstance where everybody would be happy because right now nothing’s going to happen,” he said.
The stalemate revolves around a Catch-22 situation. According to Crawford, Pedoto owes a mortgage of about $1 million to Bank of America in addition to the back taxes owed to the town that total between $160,000 and $170,000.
“There was another lien holder on the property, Global Oil. I believe they’ve agreed to release any interest in the property because there is nothing left,” Crawford said, based on the value of the property.
In order for Touchette to build on the site, an environmental impact report known has a 21E would have be filed and any contaminants discovered must be cleaned up. But if he pays for the 21E and the cost of any remediation prior to obtaining concessions from Bank of America on the mortgage, the bank could swoop in and take the property as the No. 1 lien holder, and sell it to recoup its losses.
If the bank takes the property before the 21E report is done, it would be responsible for ensuring the report is conducted and any clean up done.
“I’d like to see the bank make concessions” that would enable Touchette to move forward with his plan to improve the property, Crawford said, adding that the town “won’t stop him” from building homes there.
“We can’t make concessions from the town. We cannot forgive back taxes. They have to pay them, so we’re going to get our taxes,” Crawford said, adding, “Bank of America has to release this.”
“I contacted Brad Jones’ office and Jones is very familiar with the Bank of America lobbyists that work at the State House and they’re arranging a meeting to possibly initially get those buildings taken down,” he said.
“Mr. Touchette paid to have those tanks taken out is what we’re told and at this point he does not want to spend one more dime on that property unless he knows he has a possibility of building houses there. And we have to get Bank of America out of the middle of this,” Crawford said.
Terranova recuses himself
Selectman Tom Terranova recused himself at the outset of the update on Perley Burrill by stating, “I had a prior professional relationship with the owner of Perley Burrill, so to err on the side extreme caution, I am going to remove myself.”
Joe Duhaime of 57 Fairview Ave. questioned this action by stating the last time he attended a meeting on Perley Burrill nearly two years ago Terranova had participated. He asked Terranova why he had not recused himself from that meeting.
Terranova responded, “After that point in time I’ve reflected upon the situation and wanted to err on the side of caution and recuse myself.” He then left the hearing room.
After Terranova left, Denis Ritchie, 1 Daventry Court, asked if he had gone into “any executive sessions or any of the public sessions” during which he could have obtained “privileged information that his client could have benefited from. Isn’t that illegal?”
“I don’t know about the legality of it, but that is the scenario of what happened,” Crawford said.
Pat Campbell suggested that Terranova be invited back into the meeting “to answer what Mr. Ritchie had to say.”
Duhaime repeated the concerns stated by Ritchie and himself and said to Terranova, “I live close to Perley Burrill and it is my understanding after doing some research that not only did you not recuse yourself from that meeting on June 16 about 14 months ago, but you also didn’t recuse yourself from executive session meetings prior to that.”
Terranova said, “I’ve done everything that I had to do with the situation and that’s as far as I am going to go with it.”
Duhaime asked, “Why were you participating in issues related to Perley Burrill for two years when you represented that client?
Terranova responded, “It wasn’t two years. It was possibly two meetings and at the meeting you were at, I was going totally against Perley Burrill, so if anything you should thank me. But if it is more important for you to try to make an issue out of it, no problem. I am removing myself from this discussion to err on the side of extreme, extreme, extreme caution. Is that clear?”
Duhaime replied, “Crystal. The issue is you should have recused yourself.”
Terranova stated, “You and I can totally disagree on that point.”