This article appeared August 4th in the Gardner News.
The city is making moves to take one of the neglected buildings in the downtown through eminent domain, although which one has yet to be disclosed.
At its August meeting, the City Council approved borrowing $97,500 so the Gardner Redevelopment Authority could purchase a “derelict vacant property in the downtown business district.”
Councillors were very careful to not reveal which building was being talked about as the owner of the property has yet to be informed this is coming. All discussions took place in an earlier executive session.
“There are steps that have to be taken,” said Councillor Ronald Cormier, who also is the chairman of the Gardner Redevelopment Authority.
However, officials promised the change would be well worth the money.
“There are a couple of derelict buildings that have been in the same state of decay for far too long,” said Mayor Mark Hawke. “This is a way of taking back our downtown. We need to assist the private sector.”
With the purchase of this property, he alluded, the city would be able to start massive redevelopment efforts, as outlined in the urban renewal plan, which was created nearly a decade ago.
Reclaiming the vacant buildings in the downtown — such as the old Gardner cinema and the Maki Building — has long been a priority for local politicians and shop owners, who worry some of the more unseemly properties deter people from coming downtown to shop.
And, in some cases, the buildings have attracted nefarious activity.
For example on June 13, 2014 — Friday the 13th — police arrested three Gardner men who had broken into the old cinema to “make a movie” using stolen robes from St. Joseph’s Church.
Other buildings have also attracted problems. However, many of these buildings have absentee landlords who pay the taxes so the city can’t seize the building in land court for taxes, but otherwise put no money into the property, allowing them to crumble.
This makes it difficult for the city to gain control, as the landlords often name a high selling price.
In this case, though, the city, in partnership with the Redevelopment Authority, is working to take it through eminent domain.
“They are using their powers of sale,” said Mr. Hawke. This means, according to Mr. Hawke, the Redevelopment Authority can set the price at an assessed fair market value and send a letter to the landlord informing him of its decision. The landlord will then have the option to challenge the price in court 30 days after receiving the letter.
From there, it is a legal battle. Known abatement costs, such as asbestos removal, can be deducted from the fair market price.
Once the property owner is informed, officials said they will reveal which building they plan to take.