By Keith Eddings
---- — LAWRENCE — A fence went up around some of the fire-ravaged ruins of a South Canal Street mill yesterday, two days after the owner was criminally charged with ignoring orders from the city to secure the teetering red-brick shell and submit a plan for demolishing it.
Housing Court Clerk-Magistrate Susan Trippi ordered the building’s owner, David Padellaro, to return to court for an arraignment on Feb. 6, adding another chapter to the troubled history of the landmark Merrimac Paper mill complex since it was sold at a bankruptcy auction in 2005 after 130 years of operation.
City building inspectors ordered Padellaro to secure the site and submit the plan for demolishing the historic building and cleaning up the property — which is riddled with asbestos and other toxins — on Jan. 16, a day after state arson investigators left the site. By yesterday, the investigators had not determined the cause of the Jan. 13 blaze.
At a hearing Tuesday, Padellaro provided Trippi with the outlines of a proposed contract with an engineer who would develop the demolition plan. In her ruling, Trippi said the document “was not sufficiently comprehensive” to qualify as the plan itself.
In ordering Padellaro’s arraignment, Trippi also noted he still has not applied for a demolition permit. She also said he provided no evidence of any work done to secure the property to protect the public and keep out the homeless and vagrants that have often camped out in the maze of 27 buildings that cover nearly all of the two-acre mill complex.
Yesterday Padellaro erected a 6- or 7-foot chain link fence around the most badly damaged building, but not around an adjoining building damaged by the fire. That building is secured with plywood on the doors and windows.
City Building Commissioner Peter Blanchette is scheduled to meet with Padellaro’s engineer, Richard Kaminski of Lawrence, at City Hall this morning to begin work on the demolition plan.
Kaminski’s proposal to Padellaro includes a $12,500 bill to write the plan, but Blanchette said the full cost of the demolition could reach $500,000, in part because of the expense of safely removing the asbestos and other toxins. That job became more complicated and expensive following the fire two weeks ago, which mixed the toxins with the charred wood, bricks, glass, steel and other debris that collapsed as the building burned.
Padellaro’s lawyer, Sal Tabit, said at Tuesday’s Housing Court hearing that he is hopeful that the demolition will cost less and could be covered by the $175,000 or so he said scrap metal from the mill building could fetch.
He seemed less optimistic yesterday.
“All this stuff is awfully expensive,” Tabit said yesterday. “What happens if he can’t do anything because he can’t afford it? You can’t get blood from a stone. Are you going to throw him in jail? (Then) the property is just going to sit there. The work won’t get done. He’s making every effort and turning over every stone to get the resources to do that.”
Building Commissioner Blanchette’s order to Padellaro to secure, demolish and cleanup the property included a warning that the city would have the work done itself and lien the property to recover the cost. But the language is standard for every demolition order and in this case, Blanchette said he is not hopeful given Padellaro’s record.
The unpaid liens on the mill property for back taxes, fees and interest date to 2002, which was eight years before Padellaro bought the former mill for $1 in a deal city officials said was intended as a tax dodge for the previous owner. The unpaid bills now total $5.4 million, making Padellaro Lawrence’s biggest tax deadbeat by far.
Padellaro, a former city cop who was discharged for misconduct in 1998, was convicted of larceny in July after bouncing three checks to another demolition contractor he hired to remove oil from tanks at the mill.
He also has failed to complete other demolitions that the city and state have ordered at other mill buildings following earlier fires. City officials, including former Economic Developer Patrick Blanchette — Peter Blanchette’s brother — have suggested Padellaro has removed valuable equipment from the property, giving the city less to lien.
Mayor Daniel Rivera also has expressed concern about whether Padellaro will get the work done and noted that the city has few good options if he doesn’t.
“We’re going to be looking to make sure that owners of all properties are doing what they’re supposed to do,” Rivera said just after the fire. “But in this instance, the law is against us. What do you do with a property owner who doesn’t fix a situation except take the property, and we don’t want it because we don’t know what’s there.”
Padellaro could not be reached yesterday.