Manchester turns to safety ordinance on bowling alley

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MANCHESTER — Town manager John O'Keefe, sharing town public safety officials' concerns that the old bowling alley behind the Manchester Shopping Center on Depot Street poses a safety hazard, is asking the building's owners to get the building into compliance under the town's public safety ordinance.

Officials are concerned that people are gaining illegal access to the interior of the building, and that another fire — one more serious than that which firefighters put out on February 1 — would threaten the safety of anyone in the building, as well as first responders.

At a meeting earlier this month, the Design Review Board asked the owners, Crosspoint Associates, to demolish the building, which has been vacant for years. Crosspoint made a counteroffer: It pledged to make sure the bowling alley is secure until it can finalize a new lease for its planned redevelopment of the plaza, and then raze the building once that's accomplished.

But that was before O'Keefe happened to check on the building on Tuesday and found the door wide open.

On Tuesday, O'Keefe said he had informed Crosspoint by email that absent improvements, the matter would become a town public safety issue, and that he's seeking "a comprehensive plan that details how they plan to comply with Chapter 16 of the town's ordinances."

That's the town public safety ordinance, and section 16, part 5 is straightforward: "A building or structure or part thereof that is or becomes dangerous or unsafe shall be made safe and secure. If the building cannot be made safe or secure, the owner shall take down and remove the building."

The ordinance also requires that doors and windows be secured, and that roofs should be watertight and not admit moisture into the building.

On Tuesday night, the Select Board appointed Manchester Police Lt. P.J. Owens as public safety inspector under the ordinance.

The Journal visited the building Tuesday and found the lock securing the door hanging from the latch, the door wide open, and the light of day shining down on small piles of snow inside that had apparently fallen through holes in the roof. The Journal took photos from the parking area near the bowling alley and did not enter the building, which is private property.

By Tuesday afternoon, the door had been locked again.

"We're anxious to find a remedy to this situation," Crosspoint spokesperson Tricia Hayes said Wednesday. "It's not in Crosspoint's interest to have a building that is a public safety concern for the town and for the agencies involved with it. So we welcome the opportunity to work with the town and Lt. Owens to resolve the situation. We hope to have a solution within the next few days."

In an email exchange between O'Keefe and Crosspoint obtained by the Journal through a Freedom of Information Act request, O'Keefe emphasized that the building is not in compliance given its condition, and that it wanted a more thorough response from the owners. As of Wednesday morning, Crosspoint director of development Kerry McCormack told O'Keefe by email that he and company property manager Geoffrey Smith were working on a compliance plan. He also reiterated that re-use of the building is still a possibility if Crosspoint's current plan for the plaza falls through.

"My biggest concern ... is a structure fire," O'Keefe said in one email. "We have other concerns, but that one comes to the forefront quickly."

After the February 1 fire, Manchester Police Officer Ryan Matteson wrote a letter to the Design Review Board, asking that the building be demolished. He pointed out that police have responded to a number of illicit activities at the structure, including vandalism and vagrancy.

Crosspoint has said it intends to redevelop the plaza, and has town and state Act 250 permits in hand to proceed once an anchor supermarket tenant signs on the dotted line. That was to have been Price Chopper, but the supermarket's parent company has decided to pull out of the deal.

Reach Journal editor Greg Sukiennik at 802-490-6000 or at gsukiennik@manchesterjournal.com


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