Battle over dilapidated borough home going to court

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Former Naugatuck burgess and tax collector Lois Ackerman's appeal to save her Walnut Street house from demolition is going to trial Tuesday. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — Former burgess and tax collector Lois Ackerman is scheduled to ask a judge Tuesday in Waterbury Superior Court to save her house from demolition.

A week before the two-family house at 146 Walnut St. was supposed to be knocked down, Ackerman sued the borough to challenge the demolition order. The lawsuit names the Board of Mayor and Burgesses and Building Inspector William Herzman, who five years ago issued the first order to demolish or repair the house.

Herzman has said the house was harboring rodents and raccoons and had debris inside stacked at least five feet high. He said it was a health and fire hazard. Neighbors have also complained that the house’s condition has depreciated their property values.

The house last week looked the same as it has for years. Overgrown brush almost entirely screened it from view, a hole in the roof was only partially covered by a tarp and the walls appeared to be collapsing inwards.

Ackerman and her lawyer, Kevin McSherry of Fairview Avenue, claim she was not given enough of a chance to repair the house, which her family has owned for generations.

“There was never any doubt that I wanted to fix the property,” said Ackerman, who now lives in the Oak Terrace public housing complex on Conrad Street. “I just didn’t have the money.”

Ackerman tried to sell an adjacent lot, which she owns, for money to repair the house, but no one has bought it, which she said was the recession’s fault.

“She’s been trying. She tried a number of avenues and hasn’t had any luck trying to get assistance,” McSherry said.

Ackerman does not owe any taxes on the property, Tax Collector James Goggin said.

Her lawsuit argues the Board of Mayor and Burgesses should not have been allowed to order the house’s demolition. Per the borough charter, Ackerman appealed the 2007 order to the Building Code Board of Appeals and then to the borough board. McSherry claims state law says the state building inspector should hear any appeal denied by the building code board.

Ackerman filed her second appeal to the borough board because she wanted to protect herself by following the charter, McSherry said.

She has never pleaded her case before the state building inspector.

Attorney Edward Fitzpatrick, who is representing Herzman and the borough board, has said the provision in the borough charter that gives the borough board final say is permissible under state law.

More than a year has elapsed since Ackerman filed her suit, but McSherry said he was not surprised it was going to trial without a settlement.

“There’s no middle ground,” McSherry said. “The town wants the house to be torn down and my client wants to repair the house, so there’s not a middle ground to discuss it.”