Zion property: Unsecured, unsafe and unsightly

Board orders property owners to board up windows and doors, demolish some structures

By Josh Bickford
Posted 1/13/21

The clock is ticking for owners of the former Zion Bible College property.

Last month, members of the Barrington Building Board of Review placed a 30-day deadline for the property owners to board …

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Zion property: Unsecured, unsafe and unsightly

Board orders property owners to board up windows and doors, demolish some structures


The clock is ticking for owners of the former Zion Bible College property.

Last month, members of the Barrington Building Board of Review placed a 30-day deadline for the property owners to board up any open windows and doors at the now vacant college campus and cut back the bushes and trees surrounding the abandoned buildings.

A second deadline — 15 days after the 30-day deadline — requires demolition of certain buildings on the campus.

Town officials have been pressuring Shineharmony LLC, the owners of the 39.5-acre parcel, to secure the vacant buildings on the property, which has become an inviting target to vandals. For years, people have trespassed on the property, destroyed the buildings and even lit fires there.

Neighbors to the former college campus have pleaded with the town to take action, and recently officials issued a notice of violation to Shineharmony LLC for failing to secure broken windows and doors. At its meeting in December, the Building Board of Review voted unanimously to uphold the notice of violation, allowing for future fines to be levied. In an act of cooperation, however, the board also called for a continuance of the issue for 30 days — until Jan. 21 — buying Shineharmony officials time to fully board-up the property.

Once the buildings are secure and vegetation is cut back, officials are expecting the town’s fire chief will approve demolition permits to the property owners, who will then have 15 days to raze and remove a handful of dilapidated structures on the campus.

Barrington Building Inspector Dennis Begin said it was important for Shineharmony to follow through on boarding up the broken windows and doors, and cutting back the vegetation.

“I really feel this needs to be done like ASAP because there are some issues, there could be collapses and I’m concerned about them,” Mr. Begin said during the board’s December meeting. “This needed to be done the past two months, and it hasn’t been done. It’s not that they’re not trying, they are… It seems like it’s falling short of where it needs to be. They’re kind of Band-Aiding it instead of getting it done, to the point where they need to be.

“I’m here to promote safety and that’s what I need to do.”

Recent ‘intrusions’

William Landry, an attorney for Shineharmony LLC, spoke during the December board meeting and offered an update to town officials.

He opened with some bad news: “The big new thing when we met last time was that there had been an intrusion in the Crandle Chapel and Athletic Center and a series of large plate windows, skylight-type windows, had all been smashed, which was something new that had not occurred previously,” Mr. Landry said.

Mr. Landry said a door had been forced open in the back of the building, but property owners had boarded up that entrance.

Mr. Landry also said he had visited the site with Mr. Begin the day of the meeting and walked the campus. He said they noticed some progress, noting windows and doors that had been boarded up, but also recognized some issues that had not been corrected.

Mr. Landry spoke about the tower at Belton Court mansion. He said nearly every one of the dozens of small window panes in the tower had been smashed, either by people throwing rocks from the outside, or by others who had trespassed into the building.

“The stairwell was a mess, broken glass everywhere,” he said. “Unsafe to walk to the top of the tower.”

Mr. Landry said his clients had secured some of the broken windows, covering them in a clear plastic, which would allow light to flow into the tower. But, he added, many of the broken window panes at the lower level had not been boarded up.

“That corrective work remained incomplete at those levels,” he said.

Mr. Landry said that demolition work that had been ordered back in October had not taken place because Barrington Fire Chief Gerald Bessette had denied the permit applications. The demolition work was important, officials said, because certain buildings are dangerous and could collapse at any time, potentially injuring someone inside the structure.

Mr. Landry said Shineharmony had retained a licensed contractor to carry out the work, but without the permits was unable to make any progress. He also said the fire chief stopped short of issuing the permits because state fire codes required vegetation be trimmed back from the buildings, and doors and windows be secured.

“We’re not looking to pick a fight, we’re looking to solve an issue with respect to the status of the permits, so the licensed contractor we have can do the work,” Mr. Landry said.

Mr. Begin said he reached out to the fire chief following the property walk-through with Mr. Landry. Mr. Begin said the fire chief was clear that certain work needed to be done before the permits could be issued.

“I wasn’t super-pleased when I went out there today. They did make some progress but not to my satisfaction,” Mr. Begin added.

Security reports

During a prior meeting, the Building Board of Review had also ordered Shineharmony submit security reports once a week to Barrington officials. The measure came in response to concerns raised by neighbors about illegal trespassing on the sprawling property.

Mr. Landry said the property owner has “diligently maintained” daily security reports, but had failed to submit them weekly. Instead, they sent a large batch of reports over at the end of November. He said it has been difficult for Shineharmony to thwart every incident of trespassing or vandalism.

“A very large site… not the type of site you can put a fence around. It’s large and sprawling. Even with a vigilant security force, they haven’t been able to catch everything, at least not right away,” Mr. Landry said.

Mr. Begin said he did not recall receiving the security reports, but believed it may have been a tech issue — he said it was possible the email got sent to his spam folder or was quarantined.

A representative for Shineharmony said she would copy Mr. Landry and others on the emails carrying the security reports.

Board motion

After the lengthy discussion, board member Michael O’Connell suggested Shineharmony be given 30 days to cut back vegetation around buildings and board up windows and doors. If they do not meet that deadline, he suggested the town enforce the notice of violation, likely meaning fines would be issued.

Fellow board member John Luttrell agreed with the suggestion, adding that he was worried Shineharmony’s progress in boarding up buildings would be counteracted by more vandalism and trespassing.

Board member Patrick Connors said he thought the 30-day deadline was very generous, and board chairman Thomas Billups said he was in agreement with the deadline proposal. Mr. Luttrell later added the 15-day deadline for building demolitions.

The board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

The board is scheduled to meet on Jan. 26 to discuss the situation.

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