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Building’s safety issues subject of public hearing Tuesday

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WEST FARMINGTON – A public hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday to determine if the building on the west side of Center Bridge should be considered a safety hazard to the tenants living there. The hearing was scheduled by selectmen after investigators with the state’s Fire Marshal’s Office found 11 safety code violations on an inspection Oct. 9.

The three-story wood frame building with tents in front at 103 Bridge Street and owned by Joel S. Batzell, has been of concern by town officials for years. Officials have tried by various means to get the piles of various items, old school bus used for storage and billboard removed from the site.

The state was contacted after a complaint was received that a woman visiting a resident fell down a ladder that accesses a part of the building.  

Fire Marshal Ed Bennett reported safety violations that include an insufficient chimney for the oil furnace, exposed electrical wiring and the use of extension cords throughout the structure, unsafe stairs, narrow hallways, lack of a fire wall between the living and storage areas and a ladder in use to reach a bed loft area where tenants sleep, according to the report.

Batzell is required by the state to respond with a plan of action to make all of the repairs and to provide certification by a licensed electrician and a structural engineer that the wiring and building meet the state’s fire code standards.

Batzell said he intends to correct the violations but has not yet submitted the form to the Fire Marshal’s Office that specifies how and when the corrections will be made. He was given 10 days to complete the form from the date he received it. The notification was sent Oct. 14.    

Town officials were notified of the building’s violations and believe it is “currently a hazardous environment for the tenants of the building on this property,” according to a memo written by Steve Kaiser, the town’s code enforcement officer, to town officials.

Batzell said the two to five people staying at his building are invited as part of his Thought Bridge Ministry that provides shelter for those in need.

“Technically we have no tenants here. It’s a membership program people join,” he said. He also takes issue with the change in safety codes the state has adopted and noted he made improvements to the building 30 years ago in order to be compliant. He believes the improvements he made should be grandfathered and not fall under the current standards. According to Batzell, the original structure was built in 1820 and he bought it in 1973. 

A public hearing will be held 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 25 at the Farmington Municipal Building to determine if Batzell’s building falls under the state’s definition of a dangerous structure or nuisance and to discuss what plan of action should be taken.

It is possible town officials may order Batzell to vacate the building of all tenants if the violation corrections have not been met by a deadline set by town order or by signed consent agreement. Further action can include taking Batzell to court.

“What is happening to me can happen to anybody,” Batzell said.  

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