Bradford to Turn Over Property to Developer

  • Seen from Robert Nutting's Cobblestone Alley rental property, the burned remains of his former home sit untended on South Main Street in Bradford, Vt. Monday, November 23, 2015. The house burned in June 2014. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, August 11, 2017

Bradford, Vt. — It’s taken two years, but a resolution is finally in sight for the problems created by a house fire that burned Robert Nutting out of his South Main Street home, and at the same time created a dangerous eyesore in the center of town.

The town of Bradford has acquired the half-acre property and plans to sell it to a local contractor so that the building can be demolished.

Nutting and the Bradford Selectboard have jousted over the disposition of the property — thrift store owner Nutting, 76, and an accumulator of collections, wanted to avoid expense and salvage all of the value he could out of the 1785 home that he’d lived in for 47 years, while town leaders, including Selectboard Chairman Ted Unkles encouraged Nutting to hire someone who would knock the fire-blackened structure down as quickly as possible.

“To be truthful, I’m amazed that nobody’s gotten hurt there,” Unkles said Friday. “We did ask Robert to put fencing up, and he did that, but it was knocked over a bunch of times. People were on the property, and it’s a terribly dangerous building.”

Nutting, who spent more than 53 years in the fire department and 15 years as chief of police for the town, was not injured in the June 2015 blaze, which was started inadvertently by pre-teen children who were on the property with Nutting’s permission.

Late last month, Nutting sold the property, located at 172 South Main St., to the town for $1, plus forgiveness for nearly $1,800 he owed in back taxes.

Nutting said Friday that, though he and the town have sparred over this and other properties he owns, he’s happy with the resolution, which also allows him to dispense with the headache of wrestling with insurance companies.

The town plans to immediately sell the property to Jason Fornwalt, owner of Fornwalt Excavation, for $1 in a contract that stipulates Fornwalt must demolish the home and remove the debris from the site within 60 days of closure of the sale.

Unkles said he does not know what Fornwalt’s long-term plans for the property are. Nutting said he hoped Fornwalt would allow him to salvage some granite out of the foundation. Fornwalt did not return calls seeking comment Friday.

Unkles said that it was possible, but unlikely, that the town could have crafted a better deal by opening a bidding process for the real estate sale, because the appraised value of the property — $21,000 — was roughly equal to the estimated cost of demolishing the fire-ravaged home.

Unkles said that, because Vermont law requires that towns warn the public before disposing of real estate, town officials are currently waiting out a 30-day period during which members of the public have an opportunity to object to the sale to Fornwalt.

For Unkles, the demolition of the home will be a key step forward in the town’s efforts to clean up the South Main Street neighborhood, which has been slowly overcoming an inheritance of dilapidated multi-family homes.

He gave much of the credit to Downstreet Housing and Community Development, a Barre, Vt.-based nonprofit that recently invested $4.6 million to acquire and improve the 21-unit Colonial Village down the street.

“That whole part of our town, 15 years ago, there were a lot of houses in rough condition,” Unkles said. “They’ve really improved the quality of a lot of the housing stock.”

As for Nutting, he said he hopes the demolition gives him closure on the fire, which has weighed heavily on him.

“I hate to see it go, but I know it’s got to go,” said Nutting. “It’s on my mind all the time. I’m hoping after it’s gone, it’s going to be done and over with.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.