NORWAY — The town should know sometime next week whether it has been successful in getting up to $400,000 in state grant money to begin the rehabilitation of the Opera House’s first-floor storefronts.

“The town awaits the decisions on which projects are funded for Communities for Maine Future on August 2,” Town Manager David Holt said Monday, just four days after a judge ruled the town must pay former Opera House owner Barry Mazzaglia $185,000 for taking the historic downtown property by eminent domain last year.

The decision by Oxford County Superior Court Judge Robert Clifford followed more than 12 hours of testimony earlier this month. Mazzaglia, owner of BiTim Enterprise Inc. in Londonderry, N.H., fought the town for more than a year to recover more than $328,000, the value his appraiser set on the building. The town’s appraiser set the building value at $185,000. The judge ruled the town’s assessment to be appropriate.

Voters authorized selectmen to take the Opera House property by eminent domain after a portion of the roof collapsed on Sept. 21, 2007, severing a sprinkler pipe, which flooded the 1894 building and compromised its stability. Efforts to work with the owner to keep the building from collapsing became unproductive, said town officials, who received a permanent injunction in 2009 that prohibited occupancy until it was deemed safe and stable.

The decision and effort by townspeople, including Bea and Bill Damon who donated $200,000 toward the eminent domain taking, the Board of Selectmen and Holt to pursue the Opera House purchase was hailed Monday by Greg Paxton, executive director of Maine Preservation, as precedent setting.

“We think it’s an excellent decision. It does release this building from limbo and allows for movement to taker place,” Paxton said. He said the action took “vision” and “fortitude” to tackle and see through.


Paxton told Norway officials and residents three years ago that the Opera House owner was holding the building “hostage” with his lack of a quick response to make it safe and by placing an “unrealistic” selling price on it. At that time, Mazzaglia put the building on the market for $600,000.

Paxton, who has called the building a very important historical resource and viable commercial space, said the decision to take the building by eminent domain and tackle its stabilization and rehabilitation is fairly unique in Maine.

“There’s not many situations like this,” said Paxton, who said such situations can take a long time to settle, as was the case in Norway.

Paxton said Norway’s case shows other towns that it is possible to fight out-of-state property owners who are impeding a town’s ability to save a historic building.

Holt said that if the state funding comes through, the process will begin to restore the storefronts.

“If we are successful, implementing that project will be the focus over the next couple years,” Holt said. “If we are not successful in this very competitive process, we will look for the next best alternative to see that the building is kept safe and made usable.”

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