NORWAY — Selectmen decided Thursday night not to take the historic Opera House by eminent domain at this time.

Instead, the board voted unanimously to ask building owner Barry Mazzaglia of Bitim Enterprise in Londonderry, N.H., to allow an appraiser to assess the interior of the damaged three-story brick structure that was built in 1894.

“It was the recommendation of the attorney to make this step. For reasons I don’t need to get into tonight, this is the right step,” Town Manager David Holt said. “The attorney says get everything in proper sequence.”

Attorney James Belleau of the Auburn law firm of Skelton, Taintor & Abbott is also representing the town in an effort to force Mazzaglia to shore up the building. That case is set to be heard in Oxford County Superior Court on Sept. 4.

If Mazzaglia does not allow access to the building, officials will then ask a judge to intervene and provide a way for the appraisal to be done.

Earlier this month, selectmen sought to draw up papers to take the Opera House by eminent domain as a way, in part, to gain access to the building and to try to keep the owner from suddenly tearing it down.

Selectmen were cautious about the latest decision.

“How do we get it (the building) through another winter especially if we don’t control it?” board Chairman Bruce Cook asked. “But then it would be a bit foolish not to take the attorney’s advice.”

Selectman Russ Newcomb asked how the appraisal would be paid for and was told by Holt that the $2,000 would come from Community Development funds.

Mazzaglia purchased the building with its distinctive clock tower in 2003 for $225,000. He has turned down repeated offers by Selectman Bill Damon to fund the purchase by a local group for $200,000.

The centerpiece of the downtown area, it was damaged Sept. 21, 2007, when a portion of the roof collapsed and water from broken pipes flooded the two first-floor businesses. Since then, officials have grown increasingly concerned about the stability of the building and lack of response from the owner.

Two engineering studies have deemed the structure to be “unsafe to the public and neighboring property” and officials have become convinced that the structure continues to deteriorate causing not only an unsafe situation for the downtown but an unfavorable economic one.

According to Belleau, Mazzaglia has said he has no money to do any work and is on the verge of bankruptcy.


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