Board to seek court order to correct code violations

FARMINGTON — After a yearlong effort to resolve State Fire Marshal concerns over a West Farmington residence, selectmen decided unanimously Tuesday to get a court order to correct code violations.

Joel Bridges, formerly Joel Batzell, owns the property at 103 Bridge St. It's known as Thoughtbridge, a nonprofit ministry that Bridges said takes in homeless people and those "others have thrown away."

Bridges met again with selectmen Tuesday to address the progress on 11 violations noted in an October 2008 State Fire Marshal inspection. The inspection was held after a visitor to the building fell through a hole in the floor that was used to access another floor by use of a ladder. The visitor made a complaint.

Five of the life safety improvements have been corrected, Code Enforcement Officer J. Stevens Kaiser told the board.

The board has been given regular updates and extended deadlines for completion throughout the year.

"It's been a year," Selectman Jon Bubier told Bridges, who responded, "I'm not dragging my heels, I have health issues." He said his health is improving, and he plans to do some carpentry himself.

He rose to face the local access channel television camera to tell the board and home viewers "all you want the property cleaned up . . . you can come help me."

He told selectmen that they and the news media are making it look like he was dragging his heels, he said.

"We've given you ample time," Bubier said.

The board agreed that regardless of the reasons for the delays, ultimately it's the property owner's responsibility.

Members looked to Town Manager Richard Davis for advice on the next move.

Davis suggested the town file for a court order and let a judge decide how to obtain code compliance.

Bridges responded, "go for it" and said he would "love to argue the case in court" because many buildings in town would not meet new code standards developed since the early 1990s.

The building has a hallway 2 inches too narrow and ceilings that are too low, the owner said. If the government wants people to meet the new standards, then it should help low-income people make that happen, he said previously.

In other business, legal action regarding removal of fire debris left from a Maple Avenue home was put on hold by the board after volunteers in the community helped two brothers clean up the debris over the past two weekends.

Benjamin Cummings told the board about New Life Community Church in New Vineyard and others who came to the rescue by providing new hope for him and his brother, Jonathan, owners of the property destroyed by fire last December.

The board gave Cummings until the end of October to cap off the Maple Avenue end of the building with a "presentable" exterior. The board will hear an update on the work at its Oct. 27 meeting.

abryant@sunjournal.com

 

 

 

 

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 's picture

Another person who also

Another person who also doesn't use his real name but calls himself "dead dog" (maybe we should take him at his own evaluation?) says

"Responding to Licia Kuenning's accusation of selective enforcement. When Mr Batzell started taking in homeless and transients the use of the property changed from residential to to boarding house or something along those lines."

It didn't change. Joel has been taking in homeless people for over 30 years. At times he has even gotten calls from the town office when they were looking for a place for someone to stay. You write,

"Other old houses that don't meet the newest building codes are grandfathered because they are still being used as a single family residence. When the use of a building changes it must be brought up to current codes."

The use of the building didn't change. It has been the same for over 30 years. The code changed in 2007; that isn't Joel's fault, but it gave those who hate Joel their opportunity to harass him. Then you say,

"Planning boards and code enforcement officers will usually give a variance for a narrow hall or low ceiling if everything else meets code standards. Those are two of 11 violations. In addition to those two there are four more violations that have not been corrected. Mr Batzel should have fixed them instead of griping about what can not be easily changed."

Once again, "dead dog," you don't know what you are talking about. You don't know what has been corrected and what has not--you only know what you see in articles, which are never entirely accurate. And Joel does very little griping at any time.

"The town should not be responsible to fix what Mr Batzel did to his own building."

Joel didn't do anything to his own building, except try to keep it maintained, and make improvements at the demand of town officials. All of which is difficult when you have a rambling old structure, ill health, and little money.

"If you inspected all of the old buildings in Farmington I doubt you would find any others with holes in the floors and ladders to access different floors."

Are you kidding? The only hole in the floor (it was probably there when he bought the building) is the one for the ladder (and there's only one ladder that I have ever heard of), and these things were NOT among the alleged "violations." If you inspected all of the old buildings in Farmington I doubt you would find even one that comes up to all the stipulations of the 2007 code. Their owners could all be dragged into court if somebody were out to get them. Then you say,

"If Batzel had done things right with the proper permits he would not be in this position."

And again you are completely ignorant. Joel had his building inspected in 1991, and it passed all the requirements at that time. In 2007 a new code was adopted. Maybe some day you will be old, poor, and in weak health, and your building won't come up to some new code. Then maybe you will understand just what an unfair thing is being done here. You continue,

"Maybe the town would have said the building can not be used as a homeless shelter but must stay in residential use but the current problems would not be there. The town has given him more breaks and extensions than I would have."

Considering that Joel didn't do a single thing wrong, it shouldn't be necessary to give him "breaks" and "extensions"; he should have been left alone. And before they kick the homeless out onto the street they should find some other accommodation for them--at present there is none.

"It's time to get a court order that sets a firm deadline or the building will be razed at the owner's expense."

Dead dog, it's time that someone in charge of removing garbage takes your carcase out of the street.

And isn't it interesting that the most ignorant posts on internet forums almost always come from people who conceal their identity? Use your full real names if you have something worth saying and know what you are talking about.

 's picture

Someone who apparently is

Someone who apparently is ashamed to identify herself so uses the pseudonym "greatgramgover" writes.

"It is not welective enforcement it is the law and Joel Batzell has gotten alot of help with the buiklding but he expects everything handed to him on a silver platter for nothing."

This is completely untrue. Then she continues

"Well to begin with the building at 103 Bridge street in west farmington the former Lyons Garage where cars were repaired for yearsa should never have been allowed to been made over for people to live in."

Your opinion, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with the present case. 103 Bridge St has been a residence for 32 years. You write,

"I have known of joel Batzell for many many years

You say you have known OF Joel Batzell, meaning I guess that you have heard about him at second or third hand. There are many false stories going about. But I have known Joel Batzell himself for many years. Then you say,

"and he has always been a mental case because of drugs and alchol use like many others in the state but he never has tried to improve his life and become a productive tax paying citizen."

You don't know what you are talking about; you are just repeating hearsay, with no consideration for the human being you are attacking, who at least tries to help other people. But you go on,

"He continues to add junk to the yard over there so it looks like the town dump and is an eyesore for all to see as they go across the bridge."

Actually, he has cleaned up the yard quite a bit. But again this is irrelevant to the present case. Joel is not being prosecuted for having a yard that you don't like to look at. That isn't illegal anyway. (If ugliness were illegal, the first people to be hailed into court ought to be those like you with ugly spirits who attack harmless people in public forums.) He is being dragged into court because his old building doesn't meet the standards of a 2007 code, and that is selective enforcement because it isn't being done to other owners of old houses, in general. You add,

"It is time that the town official and the judge shut the place down and had the mess cleaned up and the building destroyed. If one cannot help themselves no one else can help them either ."

How profound. Maybe it's time that you were tarred and feathered and dragged down routes 2 & 4 behind a truck.

Marjorie Grover's picture

It is not welective

It is not welective enforcement it is the law and Joel Batzell has gotten alot of help with the buiklding but he expects everything handed to him on a silver platter for nothing. Well to begin with the building at 103 Bridge street in west farmington the former Lyons Garage where cars were repaired for yearsa should never have been allowed to been made over for people to live in. I have known of joel Batzell for many many years and he has always been a mental case because of drugs and alchol use like many others in the state but he never has tried to improve his life and become a productive tax paying citizen. He continues to add junk to the yard over there so it looks like the town dump and is an eyesore for all to see as they go across the bridge. It is time that the town official and the judge shut the place down and had the mess cleaned up and the building destroyed. If one cannot help themselves no one else can help them either .

 's picture

Responding to Licia

Responding to Licia Kuenning's accusation of selective enforcement. When Mr Batzell started taking in homeless and transients the use of the property changed from residential to to boarding house or something along those lines. Other old houses that don't meet the newest building codes are grandfathered because they are still being used as a single family residence. When the use of a building changes it must be brought up to current codes. Planning boards and code enforcement officers will usually give a variance for a narrow hall or low ceiling if everything else meets code standards. Those are two of 11 violations. In addition to those two there are four more violations that have not been corrected. Mr Batzel should have fixed them instead of griping about what can not be easily changed. The town should not be responsible to fix what Mr Batzel did to his own building. If you inspected all of the old buildings in Farmington I doubt you would find any others with holes in the floors and ladders to access different floors. If Batzel had done things right with the proper permits he would not be in this position. Maybe the town would have said the building can not be used as a homeless shelter but must stay in residential use but the current problems would not be there. The town has given him more breaks and extensions than I would have. It's time to get a court order that sets a firm deadline or the building will be razed at the owner's expense.

 's picture

I have been following this

I have been following this case closely. The first thing that needs to be noted is that this has not been "a yearlong effort to resolve State Fire Marshal concerns." The State Fire Marshal is not the source of the animus against Joel Batzell, though Farmington officials pretend that he is. The Fire Marshal is just an excuse, and someone in the Farmington town office brought him into it for that purpose.

Joel is right that there are numerous old houses which cannot realistically be brought into conformity with the 2007 code, especially if they are owned by low-income people, as probably the majority of old houses are. In general, NOBODY EXPECTS THEM TO. We are dealing here with selective enforcement--if somebody doesn't like you, then they suddenly become very concerned about the fire safety of your home. They think that you or those who live with you would be much safer on the street! Sure. A law that lends itself to selective enforcement is a bad law, and that is the extent of the State's fault in this situation, but the responsibility for oppression of an innocent homeowner is still squarely in the Farmington town office.

Another misleading statement in your article is, "The inspection was held after a visitor to the building fell through a hole in the floor that was used to access another floor by use of a ladder. The visitor made a complaint." This version has long since been rebutted, and surely it is time that reporters got on board. The visitor was a young woman who was seeing one of the many transient homeless people that Joel takes in from time to time: the young man was temporarily staying in a room at 103 Bridge St. Apparently she and the homeless man got drunk or stoned on drugs, and the woman fell down a ladder. But that the woman then wrote a letter to the State Fire Marshal is beyond belief; and Joel stated at the very first Selectmen's meeting where these issues were discussed that the complaint had not been filed by that woman or by anyone connected with Thoughtbridge. Nobody attempted to refute what Joel said; we just got evasive comments such as "it doesn't matter who complained." They don't want to admit who it was, as that would interfere with their shifting the blame for their cruel actions to the Fire Marshal. There has never been any evidence that the woman filed any complaint. I think it was filed by the Farmington town manager, but I urge any reporter who really wants to report the news to insist on PROOF of who filed the complaint and not be put off until she gets it.

None of the alleged "violations" listed by the Fire Marshal had anything to do with the much talked-of ladder.

Joel is quoted as saying, "If the government wants people to meet the new standards, then it should help low-income people make that happen." Indeed they should. How would you like to be told that you should make your halls 2 inches wider and your ceilings 1 inch higher?! But I fear Joel is being overoptimistic if he thinks that a court hearing will get any fairer press coverage than the proceedings to date have gotten. What we are dealing with is SELECTIVE ENFORCEMENT. It all depends on who likes you or dislikes you. This is what we should not tolerate.

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