Published in the July 19, 2018 edition.


WAKEFIELD — The town will forgive $38,000 in back taxes owed after the new owner the property at 13-15 Albion St. agreed to clean up hazardous waste on the site.

Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio explained the rationale for the deal at Monday’s meeting of the Town Council. He reminded the board that in November 2016, Town Meeting adopted the provisions of a Massachusetts General Law that allows the Town Council to abate taxes, penalties, interest and attorney’s fees on commercial or business properties that require mitigation of hazardous wastes in order to utilize or develop them.

Maio explained that municipalities do not want to foreclose these tax liens on “dirty” sites, thereby taking on the liability. And new owners of such properties may need some financial help as the cleanup is costly. 

The 13-15 Albion Street property is such a site, Maio said. The current owner, Ralph Penney, purchased the property in 2016 and took on all the liability for paying back taxes owed by the previous owner as well as responsibility for the environmental cleanup. 

From approximately 1944 to the the late 1970’s, the former savage Cleaners conducted a dry cleaning business on the first floor of the building. In 2013, the Department of Environmental Protection listed the property as a hazardous waste site after dry cleaning solvent was detected in the groundwater under the basement floor and in air samples collected within the building. Heating oil was also found to have leaked from above-ground storage tanks before the building was converted to natural gas.

In 2014, the cleanup costs were estimated to exceed the value of the property and it was abandoned. The prior owner stopped paying property taxes.

In June 2016, Penney purchased the property from the estate of the late Patrick Donovan and assumed responsibility for the cleanup. All taxes and utility bills incurred since the purchase have been paid, Maio said.

Maio told the Town Council that Penney has spent close to $100,000 on remediation. Heating oil-contaminated soil was removed for off-site disposal. Additional groundwater monitoring wells and a sub-slab venting system were installed. A new concrete floor was poured to prevent any dry cleaning solvent vapors from entering the indoor air.

Improvements have been made to the front of the building, and the first floor space at 13 Albion St., where Neal Hurton operated his “Changing Places” beauty salon for several years, has been renovated. Last April, Real Estate Associates moved into that space. The Town Cobbler continues to occupy the first floor of 15 Albion Street.

The second and third floors remain vacant. Penney has said that he anticipates renovating the second and third floors into two luxury residential apartments.

The property has been deemed eligible under Massachusetts General Laws for the abatement of past taxes due.  Maio stressed that forgiving the $38,000 owed is not a rebate, as the taxes were never paid. Rather, the town is agreeing to forgive that amount in consideration for the property being cleaned up, improved and put back on the tax rolls.

The Town Council voted to authorize Town Counsel Thomas Mullen to draft an abatement agreement. forgiving back taxes from 2014, 2015 and 2016. Maio said that he would wait for the DEP to sign off on the property before signing the agreement.