Solution may be near in TanFastic/Butler case

SALEM – A solution may be coming in the case of the delapidated TanFastic building and former Butler museum building in downtown Salem, City Law Director Brooke Zellers said.

The topic came up during the Salem City Council meeting after Scott Cahill, another downtown building owner, raised the issue and also criticized the city zoning department regarding an unrelated matter.

Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey asked Zellers for an update on the still pending court case related to the TanFastic building.

He said the case was set for trial today, but the judge agreed to a continuance after being told of a possible resolution being worked on by the attorneys.

According to Zellers, there’s “an imminent agreement to have the buildings transferred to a third party who is in a position to repair or demolish them.” He declined to give any more detail than that.

The city filed a court case in 2011 against the TanFastic building owners, Timothy and Deborah Smith, over the condition of the building. Bricks have been falling from the west wall between the TanFastic building and the Butler building, with both buildings closed and the sidewalk and street below also closed for awhile.

The city went to the expense of placing scaffolding in front of the buildings this past summer so the sidewalk and those parking spots could be reopened in time for the Salem Super Cruise. The scaffolding has remained in place as a safety measure.

Counterclaims were also filed against the city and the Salem Art Institute, which owns the former Butler building.

Cahill left the meeting before Zellers spoke, but during his presentation he reviewed how he had sat down with Councilman Dave Nestic regarding the buildings and interference he had received when he tried to make a deal to purchase them to abate the problems. He said nothing’s been done to fix the situation with the buildings and he was asked by Salem Art Institute to become involved. This time he said he has hired his own attorney.

Cahill said he was told the buildings were wanted for the Community Improvement Corporation, a non-profit entity which could leverage grant money for development. He said he supports the formation of a CIC and wouldn’t mind if someone else fixed the buildings.

“I’m not sure the building can be saved at this point,” he said.

Nestic, who has talked previously about restarting the CIC, said he doesn’t care who does what with the building. He said “we don’t have any control over the buildings.”

Both buildings are owned by others and Nestic said he’s not one of them. He also said he didn’t see anyone causing any interference and would work to help Cahill if he wanted the buildings.

Cahill also criticized the zoning department, saying he was replacing windows in a building he owns, had a small contactor working for him and didn’t get a zoning permit. He said “replacing windows in the rest of the universe does not require a zoning permit.”

City Planning & Zoning Officer Patrick Morrissey said the building in question was located on North Ellsworth Avenue. He said the problem was the contractor was unregistered and there was no permit to do the work, which are both required by city ordinance. He said everybody is treated fairly.

Mayor John Berlin said the ordinances of the city as written are the messages delivered by the zoning officer. If the way the message is delivered isn’t the way the ordinances are written, then there’s something wrong, but if the message delivered follows the ordinance, then it’s not the messenger who’s at fault.

“Pat’s very aware of the ordinances and what’s necessary to comply,” Berlin said.

In regard to Morrissey, Councilman Clyde Brown questioned if the administration had done anything to find a replacement, since he officially retired last year, but Berlin said he wasn’t retiring fully until the end of 2014. Morrissey did retire last year, but was rehired at a lesser salary with no health benefits. He indicated he’s planning to leave at the end of 2014.

Berlin said previously that they intended to find someone to be trained under Morrissey, but with both working part-time during that period, with the idea that the person would become full-time when Morrissey leaves. He said they’ll be reviewing their options and there will have to be a transition with some overlap.