The town of Colchester is suing a building owner for violating a settlement that required him to tear down a dilapidated structure off East Lakeshore Drive.
The town’s breach-of-contract lawsuit, filed on March 7, alleges Richard Labelle failed to remove his 755 East Lakeshore Dr. building by the November 2017 deadline stipulated in a settlement reached two months prior. Town officials have condemned the building, citing structural failings beyond repair, and the lawsuit now says “time is of the essence” for its removal.
“There is a tangible risk that the change of seasons, and the resultant softening of the ground around the building, may cause the building to collapse and fall into or very near the waters of Lake Champlain,” the lawsuit reads.
The town is requesting the right to take “necessary steps to dismantle the building immediately” and charge Labelle for an itemized list of expenses. The lawsuit also asks Labelle reimburse the town for all costs related to enforcement and attorneys’ fees.
But Labelle’s lawyers, in a response to the lawsuit, say the town breached the settlement agreement first and blames it for any damages caused by Labelle’s failure to remove the building.
How exactly the town breached the settlement is unclear: Labelle’s lawyers did not return multiple requests for comment, and the response doesn’t specify.
The conflict dates back to January 2013, when Colchester building inspector Derek Shepardson visited the property after receiving a complaint and found multiple violations of the town’s building ordinances.
Colchester building codes define unsafe structures as “unstable,” “unsanitary” or “otherwise dangerous to life or other property,” among other standards. Vacant buildings are also “deemed to constitute a hazard.”
Shepardson subsequently ordered the building boarded up or removed within 24 hours, according to archived letters from zoning administrator Lisa Riddle posted on the town’s website.
The town conducted another site visit in April 2017, four years after Shepardson’s initial letters, and ordered Labelle remove the building within 30 days.
“It is no longer feasible to secure the building by boarding it up,” Shepardson wrote on April 27, 2017.
Shepardson issued the same order for another building on Lakeshore Drive owned by Gary L. Gregoire. Gregoire has since torn down that building, according to director of planning and zoning Sarah Hadd.
Labelle, meanwhile, appealed the town’s decision to Vermont Superior Court, but the two sides settled in September 2017.
In a response filed May 14, Labelle challenges the town’s representation of Shepardson’s letters and alleges the town is also misrepresenting the settlement. He says the town isn’t entitled to any relief and asks for a trial.
Hadd said the town hopes the court will announce a trial date soon.