Montague mulls implementing demolition-delay bylaw


  • The vacant Farren Care Center on Montague City Road in Montague. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

  • The vacant Farren Care Center on Montague City Road in Montague. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 3/22/2022 5:20:03 PM
Modified: 3/22/2022 5:19:11 PM

MONTAGUE — The Selectboard will wait to put a prospective demolition-delay bylaw on Montague’s Annual Town Meeting warrant, opting to first field public opinion at an upcoming Historical Commission public hearing.

The bylaw’s purpose would be to “preserve and protect, through advance notice of their proposed demolition, significant buildings,” as written in the draft bylaw. The draft states this would “encourage owners of preferably preserved significant buildings to seek out persons who might be willing to purchase and to preserve, rehabilitate or restore such buildings rather than demolish them.”

Historical Commission member Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno, who drafted the bylaw alongside Town Planner Walter Ramsey, called consideration of the bylaw “long overdue,” regardless of its current relevance to the Farren Care Center demolition proposal. Selectboard Chair Rich Kuklewicz, who was wary of potential cons to welcoming the bylaw, expressed a desire for the draft to receive public feedback and be finalized at least three to four weeks in advance of Montague’s Annual Town Meeting on May 7.

“This bylaw, it could be a useful tool for the town,” Ramsey said. “It could go against the town, too, so there’s positives and negatives to it.”

In a situation where a building might be subject to the bylaw, the building inspector would first provide a notice to the Historical Commission, who would then hold a public hearing. Once relevant information is presented by the building inspector, the commission can either permit demolition or delay demolition for up to one year.

“During that time, the owner has the opportunity to find another buyer, to find money to save from tax credits…” Sawyer-Lauçanno said. “However, after that year, if no progress has been made in that regard, then in most cases, the demo delay expires and the building inspector is free to go ahead and issue a demolition permit.”

Kuklewicz’s hesitation to voice approval for the proposed bylaw stems from concern that a building’s owner could “dispose of it to an unqualified owner, which (the town has) no control over.”

“I’m not sure how I feel about it,” he summarized. “I’m not sure I feel very good about this proposal.”

Sawyer-Lauçanno reassured the Selectboard that the idea is positive by citing that more than 150 communities in the state have similar bylaws. This list includes Greenfield, Franklin County’s sole community with the bylaw, which most recently invoked it during discussions regarding demolition of the former fire station. The Greenfield Historical Commission ultimately decided not to delay demolition.

Greenfield’s Planning and Development Director Eric Twarog said that, in terms of having a bylaw, “the good outweighs the bad overall.” He downplayed concerns regarding the prospect of a private entity selling a building to a less-than-ideal buyer by arguing that sales most often “avail” the city or town.

“In general,” he said, “I would say that a community that has a large number of old buildings … should have a demolition delay bylaw ordinance in place.”

Additionally, Sawyer-Lauçanno referenced the “fairly narrow” scope of the bylaw’s reach that would minimize the risk for buildings being mishandled by excluding many that might be considered for delay under looser qualifications. Specifically, Montague’s bylaw would include a requirement that the building be at least 100 years old, whereas other communities allow the bylaw to be enacted for buildings just 50 or 75 years old.

“An old building that an owner decides should be torn down is not subject to a demo delay unless it is deemed significant,” Sawyer-Lauçanno added. “An old garage, an out-building, even a house that does not meet that criteria, the owner has no reason to be concerned. We’re not going to be saying, ‘Oh, you can’t do that.’”

While the bylaw discussion was rekindled amid Farren-related controversy, Sawyer-Lauçanno said, a bylaw implemented in Montague would likely not come in time to apply to the situation. The bylaw would go into effect after the period in which parent company Trinity Health of New England could request a demolition permit from the building inspector, which would have to be granted.

“This is not going to save the Farren, by the way, unless they drag their feet with the demolition,” Sawyer-Lauçanno said.

The Farren Care Center was closed in April of last year, having essentially merged with a similar facility in Holyoke called Mount St. Vincent Care Center. Trinity Health has maintained that the Montague City Road building was too old for its purposes and would be too expensive to update to modern standards. Its condition assessment yielded a recommendation to demolish the facility.

Montague’s town counsel, Sawyer-Lauçanno said, has provided feedback on the draft bylaw, but none of the comments provided obstructed the bylaw’s initial meaning.

“The counsel did not, by any means, change intent or purpose in the bylaw,” Sawyer-Lauçanno said.

The Historical Commission is expected to vote on the draft bylaw at its March 31 meeting. Members are also expected to decide on a date for the upcoming public hearing.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or


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