TEWKSBURY - Selectmen did not respond positively to modifications of Ames Hill Castle proposed by John D. Sullivan.
Sullivan’s company, JDS Enterprises, owns and rents Ames Hill Castle, which is located at 108 Catamount Road. During the August 10 Board of Selectmen meeting, Mark Roberts, attorney for Sullivan, presented the Board with proposed modifications to the building. The modifications would help to pave the way for a housing partnership and 40B status for the property. Sullivan did not attend the meeting.
Ames Hill Castle is located at 108 Catamount Road on a three-acre, triangular-shaped property and dates back to the Civil War. It is currently serving as a multi-unit rental property. The proposed changes included adding an elevator and modifying an eighteen-foot driveway, as well as other alterations to alleviate icing in nearby areas. Roberts said that the proposal would represent, “very, very minor changes.” He added that there are approximately ten housing units currently at the property, and that Sullivan, who bought the property in 1986, was interested in carrying out “minor changes to bring it up to code.” The carriage house on the property would remain as is.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Todd Johnson expressed concern over what he believed to be outstanding invoices, and also questioned the compliance of the property, citing a 1991 court order as well as a certificate of stipulation that prohibited units from being rented out after current inhabitants vacated. According to the court order, the building was to become and remain a one-family property. Town Counsel Charles Zaroulis stated that the court’s ruling allowed tenants living at the property at the time of the ruling - of which three of five still remain – to remain on the basis of a “humanitarian purpose.” It prevented them from being displaced, but no new tenants were to be permitted to begin renting at the location. He added that he believed the certificate of stipulation was binding.
Selectman Douglas Sears echoed these concerns, and noted that he was distressed by a possible contempt of court situation due to noncompliance, noting a 1999 judgment in Tewksbury v. Sullivan. Sears was adamant that the possibility of taxes having been unpaid be addressed. Questions regarding whether building modifications had been done without a permit were also raised. Selectman David Gay noted his disappointment at the fact that Sullivan did not attend the evening’s hearing.
Selectman Scott Wilson did not doubt the aesthetic qualities of the proposal, saying, “this is beautiful, don’t get me wrong,” but also called the project a, “shuffling of shells,” adding that an agreement had been made, but had not been followed. “I have a lot of concerns about this,” he said.
A 20-year Catamount Road resident called the situation “almost frightening,” and expressed a belief that 40B was an attempt to circumvent the law. He was also worried that the property value of homes in the area would decrease due to the proposed changes.
Resident Barbara Sousa said of those living on Catamount Road, “We want a solution. We’ve always wanted a solution.”
Resident John Rock said of Sullivan, “He does what he wants. We’re sick and tired of it.”
Others noted Sullivan’s failure to attempt to meet with residents to discuss possible avenues and resolutions. James Gaffney, Chairman of the Historical Commission, noted that there were “many issues to consider,” due to the building’s age and historical importance.
Sears questioned the motivation for forming a housing partnership with Sullivan, specifying a bad track record as well as the contempt of court concerns following Tewksbury v. Sullivan.
Johnson also mentioned issues of credibility, and was displeased with Sullivan for choosing not to appear in person to answer questions from affected residents and members of the Board. He added that he hopes to “encourage dialogue” between all parties. Johnson also indicated that he had seen nothing during the evening’s presentation that had convinced him that a housing partnership would be beneficial for the town, on account of the manifold issues that had been raised. Additionally, he expressed a desire that the most pressing concerns and issues be addressed before moving forward.
The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to table the issue.