Town pursues rickety trio of 'dangerous' Westport houses


Owners of two of the town's more run-down  houses were called on the carpet last week to explain what they plan to do about the situation. The owner of a third (whoever that may be) could soon be hearing from the town's attorney.

No owner showed up for the hearing on a collapsing house at 2 Russell Street (aka Russell Avenue). In fact, determining their identity is part of the problem, said Town Administrator Jack Healey.

The owners of another, at 155 Gifford Road, were present at the hearing and said they are doing their best to clean things up.


2 Russell Street

Building Inspector Ralph Souza said the Russell Street house, which actually fronts on Route 6, is in dire straits. Abandoned for years, it has an alarming sag to its roof and has developed a forward lean. For safety's sake, it must come down, he told selectmen. He has marked the structure with a large X, indicating that it is slated for demolition.

But Mr. Healey said the challenge has been locating an owner to do the needed work. The last owner listed in town records was  Walter Turkowitz who died over 40 years ago. The town was able to contact an heir of Mr. Turkowitz but that person does not wish to accept ownership of the property.

Should nobody be found, it will fall to the town to demolish the building and bear all associated costs, Mr. Healey said. That also holds true if it falls down on its own. If indeed the house is torn down or falls down, Mr. Souza said he expects the town would place a lien on the property so that any future sale could include reimbursement to Westport.

"Before the economy went bad, there actually were some people who wanted to buy the property" and had drawn up plans for it, Mr. Souza said. "The problem was locating anyone to sell it to them."

Selectmen voted to continue the hearing to allow more time to find an owner.

Friday, Mr. Souza said the forecast blizzard might push the matter along.

"If we get a foot or more of wet, heavy snow like they are saying, it might go down all by itself."


155 Gifford Road

Also continued was the hearing on the 155 Gifford Road property.

That building's owners, Melanie Maddows and Rochelle Johnson, were present and told Selectmen they are working to make the building more safe.

Mr. Souza credited them for boarding up the place and taking steps to remove broken heating equipment but said there is more to be done. He said that the empty house had been broken into earlier and that thieves have stolen pipes among other things.


Glenwood Avenue

And efforts to deal with a third abandoned house, this one on Glenwood Avenue, continue. Last week, Board of Selectmen Chairman Richard Spirlet asked the town's attorney to get involved in that search for an owner.

Neighbors have complained that the house has been broken into and vandalized repeatedly and that the property is home to rats. Windows and doors have repeatedly been smashed and the interior is heaped high with junk.

"I have been trying to find the owner," listed in town records as Olive Fournier, last known address being Washington DC.

Having been told that she might actually reside at a Fall River nursing home, he called the home but, without family permission, the home would provide no information as to whether she is or is not a

resident. Letters from the town to family members have been returned unopened.

One woman recalled her as a good neighbor who moved away years ago when she became too old to care for the place.


Bank foreclosures

Mr. Souza said those are the three most urgent abandoned properties in Westport that he is aware of, "but there are others that I keep an eye on."

Among these are a number of bank foreclosed buildings. Typically, he said, these are tended to by the bank. "They have a maintenance company come by on a regular basis and check on whether there are any broken windows, anything that needs  fixing."

There are a number of these, he said — "two of them side-by-side on Sodom Road."


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.