NORWAY — Selectman Chairman Bruce Cook told his fellow board members Thursday night that it is time to take the Opera House by eminent domain.

“The alternative is to just sit and watch it fall down,” he said of the downtown building built in 1894 that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In September 2007, water pooling on the roof of the three-story, brick building caused its partial collapse. The roof collapse then caused rotted trusses and a water pipe on the top floor to collapse. Two businesses on the first floor were heavily damaged and forced to move from the location. Two subsequent engineering studies have deemed the structure to be “unsafe to the public and neighboring property.”

The owner of the building, Barry Mazzaglia of Bitim Enterprises in New Hampshire, was issued a temporary restraining order on June 18 from the Oxford County Superior Court that requires him to immediately take steps to secure the building and make the necessary repairs to ensure the building’s stability.

Cook said it appears from an on-site inspection that the owner has done nothing.

“He’s (Mazzaglia) basically ignoring it, and with each passing day it’s a safety hazard. I think it’s time we move forward,” Cook said. “We’ve got to do something.”

While selectmen agreed with the premise that something has to be done, Selectman Russ Newcomb expressed concern about how the town would fund the taking of the property. If approved, the taking would require compensation to the owner. The amount would be determined by a judge and could not be appealed.

Selectman Bill Damon, who has unsuccessfully offered to fund the purchase of the property with $200,000 of his own money on behalf of Norway Downtown, said he would put that money toward the eminent domain taking if necessary.

“We have to get off the dime. The temporary restraining order didn’t have any effect,” Cook said.
Town Manager David Holt said he agreed that eminent domain may be the only way to save the building, but he suggested the board meet with Attorney James Belleau of the firm of Skelton, Taintor and Abbott of Auburn, who is acting as the town’s attorney on the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction case. Holt said Belleau is set to meet with the judge in early August and would have more information for the board at that time.

“It’s an important building for Norway’s past but also for the future,” Holt said.

“We’re dealing with a very dangerous building in the middle of Main Street,” Cook said. “If we leave it with the present owner, someday it will be a hole in the ground.”

The Opera House is considered the anchor to the town’s downtown National Historic District. It contains first floor storefronts, a theater with a balcony on the second floor and a distinctive bell tower, which houses an E. Howard clock. The second floor, known as the Grand Ballroom, has been the central gathering place for everything from National Guard musters to high school graduations, concerts and theater groups.

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