What if an owner doesn’t fix a building destroyed by fire?

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair

A home that was: Trim suburban houses sit alongside the burned shell of 7 Ayre Dr., three months after the building was destroyed by fire. The Guilderland building inspector has asked the town board for help in ensuring that the owners start to address code violations.

GUILDERLAND — A fire gutted the house at 7 Ayre Drive on Jan. 24 and put four of its residents into the hospital in critical condition. Now Building and Zoning Inspector Jacqueline Coons has asked the town board to order the homeowners to address building code violations.

“The neighbors are starting to get frustrated,” Coons said, “so I thought it was time.”

The town has never, in Coons’s experience, had a property owner go this long — three months — before beginning to address fire damage, nor been faced with the possibility of having to do the work of and pay for tearing down the structure.

The only similar case she can remember, she said, was the junkyard at the Princetown town line. In that case —in which she said she was not involved —she thought that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation assisted and that there was no cost incurred by the town. She was referring to a case involving Bob’s Towing and Crushing at 3600 Western Turnpike, which was fined in 2009 and ordered to address a number of violations of Environmental Conservation Law.

The home at 7 Ayre Dr., Guilderland Supervisor Peter Barber recently told The Enterprise was a “complete loss.” He said that the town is concerned about its status as an “attractive nuisance,” or a dangerous site where youths or others who enter could potentially be hurt.

Coons said that she has been unable to contact the homeowners directly. “They won’t return my phone calls, or respond to my letters,” she said.

The homeowner listed on the county assessor’s rolls is Frances  Morrissey, who died almost exactly a year before the fire, in January, 2015. She was the mother of Daniel Morrissey and Christine Sawyer, both of whom were living in the home at the time of the fire.

At the time of the fire, there were seven people living in the residence — three adults and four children — and all but one adult were present during the early-morning fire. The least seriously injured were Daniel Morrissey’s two young sons. The other four people — Morrissey, Sawyer, and Sawyer’s two young grandsons — all spent weeks in a burn unit in Syracuse. Amanda Sawyer, who is Sawyer’s daughter and the mother of the two boys who were sent to the burn unit, lived there too but was not home at the time of the fire.

The town of Guilderland held a special ceremony on Feb. 25 honoring the firefighters, police, emergency medical technicians, dispatchers, and others who helped save the lives of the home’s residents. Three residents, including Morrissey and Christine Sawyer, were pulled from the burning home.

Coons said that town officials have not yet been able to get any “credible information” about the status of the home, including whether it is in foreclosure and whether it is insured. “We’ve heard different things, which is another reason I’m asking the town board to address it, to sort through and try to determine all of that information, said Coons.

Asked if the town might wind up deciding to tear down the home themselves, Coons said, “It is a possibility — if the owners won’t do it, and the town board feels that it’s appropriate that the building come down — then that could be their last resort.”

Jeffrey J. P. Neal, director of Albany County’s Division of Finance, Management and Budget sent The Enterprise a document describing the building at 7 Ayre Dr. as  a 1,152-square-foot Cape Cod owned by Frances Morrissey, with an assessed value of $110,300 and a land assessment of $22,100. He said that he found “nothing due on 7 Ayre Drive in Guilderland.”

The town board will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, May 3, at 8:15 p.m. at the town hall, on an order that would require the owner of the Ayre Drive home to remedy the building code violations. (The regular town board meeting will begin at 7:30.)

The board voted at its Feb. 2 meeting, a week after the Ayre Drive fire, to waive building permit fees related to fire damage at 7 Ayre Dr.  At the same time, the board also voted to waive building-permit fees related to fire damage at the Regency Park apartment complex, which suffered an early morning fire that destroyed one building containing six apartments on Jan. 31, just a week after the Ayre Drive fire. All residents were evacuated safely in the Regency Park Apartments fire.

Tri-City Rentals, the company that owns the Regency Park apartment complex, “was working on it immediately, the next day,” Coons said. “They have been issued a demolition permit and a permit to the repair the existing foundation.”

The Regency Park owners’ next step will be to apply for a permit to construct a new building on the existing foundation, Coons said.

Asked if the June 2010 fire at Governor’s Motor Inn hadn’t also taken a long time to remedy, Coons said that the difference was that, in that case, “there was dialog all along” with the owner. She said that it is discretionary on the part of the Building Department, as to whether to ask the town board for its help in enforcing building code standards. She said of the Governor’s Motor Inn, “The Building Department was able to get them to demolish the damaged section without the intervention of the town board.”

After that June 2010 motel fire, a demolition permit was not issued until October 2011, Coons said, “but there was a back-and-forth.”

She noted, in response to questions, that the motel is “currently a vacant structure,” but that the owner of Governor’s Motor Inn is not obliged to tear it down. “He just has to maintain it to code compliance,” she said.

Barber said that town officials are sympathetic to the situation of the 7 Ayre Dr.  homeowners, and that the town has already given them a lot of time and would be willing to give them more time.

This process, he said, is simply meant to allow the town “to work with the owner on addressing code violations.”

Asked if the town would eventually take over ownership of the property in order to recoup the cost of demolition, Barber said, “The town costs would be levied against the property. If unpaid, the town could seek judicial relief for payment and, absent payment, seek a sale of the property.”

But that is a long and involved process, he said; the town’s immediate concern is addressing the safety issues.

More Guilderland News

  • The May 17 petition filed by Cuyler Court residents William and Colleen Anders claims that, in July 2023, the town’s use of heavy equipment to access “stormwater or water management facilities” caused damage to their driveway and yard, which when combined with Guilderland’s “negligence and failure to maintain certain components” of those facilities, led to “significant flooding” of the Anders’ basement six months later. 

  • “This legislation levels the playing field for hotels and motels by collecting sales and occupancy tax on short-term rentals, addressing an estimated $550 million in lost local revenue over the past five years,” said the bill’s sponsors.

  • The legal decision is the fifth in four years to uphold the town’s approval process of what was initially a three-site development proposal from Pyramid for over 200 apartments and townhomes; a 160,000-square-foot warehouse-price club; and only recently, a $55 million 120,000-square-foot regional cancer center. 

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