Number of businesses remain closed while investigation continues
More than a dozen Abington businesses are temporarily shut down after town officials found a “lengthy list” list of worrisome safety violations at a North Quincy Street property.
Fire Chief John Nuttall told selectmen Monday night he found more than 2,000 gallons of flammable liquids, including “propane tanks everywhere we looked,” piles of old tires, unpermitted structures, and other debris spread around the site – but not a single fire hydrant. He estimated there are at least 20 active businesses on the property, but didn’t know for sure because of a lack of signs or property markers.
“We don’t exactly know who owns each property,” he said. “We have no names, we have no contact information, we have no addresses, we [don’t know the types of businesses] … As of now, Abington Fire has zero permits for any business up at that property.”
A representative for the property’s owner told Nuttall and selectmen he’d deliver a full list of all tenants, including contact information, by Tuesday. But he pushed the board of selectmen to move quick so his tenants can reopen.
“The time you guys take, it’s going to affect these people drastically,” said Victor Cimino, the owner’s son. “I want to get all those people who need to work back out working.”
A number of impacted business owners were at Monday’s hearing and asked about the process to reopen.
Selectman Jim Connolly encouraged business owners to cooperate fully with Nuttall and the town’s investigation.
“If you’ve got permits and you’re above board and doing the right thing, then you’re going to be back in business really quick,” said Connolly, a retired firefighter who briefly toured the property last Wednesday and requested the issue be placed on Monday’s meeting’s agenda.
“If you don’t have a permit, you’re going to have a problem.”
The site, located at 267 North Quincy St., on the town’s western edge, is now the focus of a multi-department investigation. Selectmen last week said they had received multiple complaints from residents about the growing cluster of businesses and materials. Focus on the property intensified quickly after a worker was killed on the property Wednesday when he became trapped underneath a vehicle.
“We’re trying to fix this so nobody else gets hurt, nobody else gets killed,” Nuttall said, adding he isn’t looking to put anybody out of business.
Nuttall told selectmen Monday he worked with town attorneys to prepare a cease and desist order, which was posted Friday morning. Because the site is private property, Nuttall also sought and received an administrative search warrant in order to formally walk through the site.
On Monday, a squad of town officials, including representatives from the fire department, the building department, board of health, and the conservation commission spent multiple hours at the property. They were joined by the state Department of Fire Services, the state Department of Environmental Protection, and the Plymouth County Bureau of Investigation, which provides photograph and documentation services for municipalities.
Nuttall told selectmen the findings he was presenting were preliminary, and he was still waiting to receive reports from the other departments. A number of businesses also had closed structures or trailers that Nuttall was not able to access or enter, he said.
Three businesses were allowed to reopen following the search, including a dumpster supplier, a portable toilet company, and a trucking company.
But Nuttall said “a lengthy list of issues were found.” He said there was a 200-gallon oil tank feeding a generator that was then providing electricity to three residential trailers.
“I have no idea who owns it, I have no idea who’s living there, they would not let us in there because they didn’t know or didn’t have the key,” Nuttall said.
In addition there are multiple unusable boats on the site. Nuttall said the fiberglass resins used in boats make them particularly difficult to extinguish.
“This is why I’m hesitant to just reopen it back up as business as usual,” he said.
Nuttall said he is looking to take similar action at two other properties: one located next door on North Quincy Street, and anotyher located of Bedford Street.
A majority of the property at 267 North Quincy St., is located in the town’s Highway Commercial zoning district. The rear part of the property is zoned R-40, which is reserved for residential housing. It backs up to Ames Nowell State Park.
The property owner received special permits from the zoning board of appeals in 2006 and 2010 to allow “open lot storage of site trailer, commercial trucks, trailers and commercial construction equipment” on the site. In 2011, he received a variance to “operate an asphalt, brick, concrete, and clean wood recycling operation.”
In 2008 he received approval from the Planning Board to build a warehouse with office space on the front of the property, but it was never built.
In addition to the property needing to meet zoning and planning standards, each business on a commercial property also needs to be property permitted and licensed. For example, repair shops, tow yards, junk and salvage yards, storage yards for fleet vehicles all need licenses from the board of selectmen.
“We cannot allow unlicensed businesses to operate in Abington,” said Selectman Alex Bezanson, who had visited the site with Connolly. “We require licenses for a reason. Everybody else abides by them.”
Town Manager Scott Lambiase, who at one time was a licensed building inspector, said the town is still pulling together everyone’s findings, as well as understanding what businesses exist on the property, and whether they have the needed permits and licenses. That process alone could take a week, he said.
“If a business needs additional permits, we’ll help you get them,” Lambiase said. “If there’s a permit you need from this office, we’ll help you get it.”
Nuttall said the property owner should work with the dumpster company on the site, place a 40-yard dumpster outside of every business, and have every business fill it with all their trash and debris, in addition to properly disposing of hazardous items like tires and propane tanks.
“Get rid of everything,” he said. “You could probably do that tomorrow and massively mitigate the fire load that’s up there.”