EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


January 28, 2014

Editorial: City dropped the ball on mill site


“Steve Stapinski came to us in 2010 looking for some type of abatement,” Patrick Blanchette, former economic development director in the Lantigua administration, told Eddings. “The Lantigua administration was unwilling to do anything because they had nothing concrete before us and there was no significant promise about the $3.5 million that was owed. There really was no trust, no incentive for the city to work with them.”

As the abandoned mill site became more attractive to vagrants, sporadic fires broke out. The problem became so severe that the city posted an around-the-clock fire watch. By 2007, the debt for the fire watch had grown to $142,000 and also went unpaid.

In 2010, former Lawrence police officer David Padellaro purchased the property from Stapinski’s company for $1 in a deal city officials said at the time was an effort by Stapinski to walk away from his debt.

Enforcement action against Padellaro was no more effective. In November 2010, the state Department of Environmental Protection ordered Padellaro to submit a plan to demolish 9 South Canal St. and the adjacent building at 19 South Canal St. due to environmental hazards. No plan was submitted.

Padellaro now owes the city $5.4 million for unpaid taxes, water bills, fire watches and interest. The city may have to pay to clean up the charred remains of the mill, work that could cost $500,000.

The Merrimac Paper story concisely illustrates the problem with these abandoned mill sites. Millions of dollars in tax and utility debt are carried on the city’s books -- but the debt was accrued by a company that no longer exists. Few developers would show any interest in such a site, unless they would be relieved of the outstanding debt. And the city has no recourse to collect the debt other than to seize the property -- along with its attendant problems of vagrancy and environmental hazards.

A better option would have been for the city to seek out a developer they could work with to restore the site to productive, taxpaying use. Instead, the city did little over two mayoral administration but tally up a nebulous tax bill that never could nor would be paid, all while the site fell into disrepair and eventually, ashes.

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