Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fire in the Hole

28 Hobart Lane on right

On Thursday September 13, just after high noon, Amherst Fire Department responded to a basement fire in apartment unit #28  on Hobart Lane, notorious party street and home of the infamous "Hobart Hoedown".

Fortunately the call came in at the perfect time --if there is such a thing for a structure fire -- as first responders were not overwhelmed with ETOH calls (alcohol poisoning), thus AFD quickly put down the blaze.

Since the "three bedroom" unit shares a large building with five other units, had AFD not caught the fire in time, the results could have been catastrophic -- especially if the blaze had started 12 hours later in the late evening of "Thirsty Thursday" when the building would have been packed with distracted students.

According to Lisa Queenin, UMass Director of Community Relations,  "The Dean of Students office and Residential Life are working with the students to make sure the five students have housing and the support services they need in the wake of the fire."

Note the number:  Five students.  Yes, a violation of Amherst zoning bylaw forbidding more than four unrelated housemates.

On Friday the morning after the fire, according to Amherst Police Department logs:

"Firefighter Mike Roy (Fire Prevention Officer) received information that Lincoln Realty had warned the residents that an inspection was imminent and that they needed to assist in hiding code violations. I assisted with contacting the DA's office and the Clerk of Courts seeking an administrative warrant to enter the apartment for inspection."

On the day  or even evening of the blaze, the fire department could have entered the building for an inspection under MGL 148 Section 4, but because 24 hours had passed they needed the administrative warrant, as the owner (Kathryn Grandonico) was not being overly cooperative.

According to Building Commissioner Rob Morra that inspection was delayed until Monday afternoon. And because of 4th Amendment concerns the "administrative warrant" only applied to the damaged apartment and adjoining units on either side (three total) rather than the entire 14 unit complex.

Evidence suggests an extra bedroom in the basement of those three units inspected on Monday.

The entire 14 unit complex is assessed at $1.5 million or $30,000 in property tax overhead, although it's quite possible those extra 14 tenants (if indeed all the units have an extra tenant) would about cover that.

A good deal for the landlord ... unless of course one of them overburdens an electrical circuit.



Gilreath Manor, built in 1982, does have vertical firewalls between units. Fire however tends to move in an upward direction and would quickly get into the attic above the firewalls to engulf other units.

24 comments:

The Juggernaut said...

What truth are you searching for by bothering this girl?

It's a result of your town's hostility towards students. The citizens become upset they moved into a student neighborhood, take action against the students, then become upset when students find their own solutions, for better and worse.

As Ed pointed out, Amherst does not welcome their students with places to do activities other than drinking. You do not protect students against price gouging, but limit the amount who can share the burden. You try and preserve the small town attitude with a big city population. Either embrace what you are, or have UMass relocate and fall into economic oblivion.

Anonymous said...

Larry,
Yes, students party too hard and tax town services. Yes, there are crappy landlords out there, lots of them.

But seriously, as a 46-year-old woman, I find your email exchanges with Hannah totally creepy. If I were her I'd now be talking to the police and my parents about a blog guy who won't leave me alone. You're going to make people think twice about communicating honestly about the town with anything, if they think someone can get hold of it and start bothering them about it.

Enough already.

LarryK said...

I clearly identified myself as a reporter doing a story.

I did not call her on the phone or knock on her door.

She could very easily have said "no comment" and that would have been it.

When people communicate with the town, especially in writing, it's called "public documents".

And "sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants."

Anonymous said...

I think we all should be legitimately concerned about unsafe conditions for students (or anyone) living in town. I am more concerned about the unsafe conditions than the extra person in the apartment. If it was poor electrical wiring, that has nothing to do with occupancy rate. And by the way, Larry, did you vote to dissolve the Housing Review Board? They regularly uncovered unsafe conditions when going after greedy landlords who charged huge rents.

The Ponziville Karma Show said...

"Enough already."


Yeah come on Larry, people in a syrupy, Prozac addled purple haze are desperate day and night to convince themselves and the world just how HUGELY superior they and this town are... and you keep bursting that balloon.

Why can't you be more like Rick Hood (was)?

Anonymous said...

"Fire in the hole"


WAHAHAHAHHA priceless title.

Anonymous said...

Few quick comments:

Larry, this woman clearly does not want to talk to you so leave her alone.

It's my understanding that the 4 unrelated person bylaw is not enforced because it is thought by many that the law itself is unconstitutional.

Your reasoning about the 5th person plugging in that one last electronic thing pushing us to a fire is a little over the top. If the 5 people had been related it would be ok for them all to be there - and you are sort of iimplying that when the 5th related person plugs something in it's ok.

Enough already Larry. Get a real job. Stop harrassing students. If I was Hannah I'd be a little freaked out by your persistent emails as well. I'm surprised she has not taken out a restraining order on you. You can be so overbearing at times that it borders on creepiness and harrassemnt. And you wonder why people don't want to use their names when they post here.
CAN on purpose to avoid harrassment.

LarryK said...

Actually if you really look at the email exchange you will notice that a) She responded almost instantly b) responded twice only 7 minutes apart to my single original request for an interview and c) my (instant) follow ups were in direct response to her responses, which she was free NOT to make.

Anonymous said...

The real issue is not the 5 students in the house. The real issue is that Lincoln Realty is stuffing students into basement rooms (some without windows). I'm assuming this is illegal? Why aren't safety violations like this the first priority for the Town of Amherst and UMass?

The Juggernaut said...

Anon 1047

UMass cannot be blamed at all for this. This is off campus, and the town would have a collective heart attack if it ever mentioned an archaic law being changed to benefit students.

Anonymous said...

To think some towns and universities care about the neighborhoods that surround the campus - so much so that families actually want to live there.

http://nbcnews.to/QZnXDp

Anonymous said...

The town needs to get serious.

Enforce building codes. Evict extra student residents, fine landlords, and padlock units that are in violation.

Enforce public drinking laws. Actually prosecute the nuisance partiers and public drunks, instead of doing "catch and release" every weekend.

Demand that the colleges do more to prevent this behavior and to deal with the results. How about this: no new building permits for any of the colleges in Amherst until the number of drunk calls drops below a certain threshold?

I know that none of these ideas will be implemented. And when a building full of drunk kids burns down, people will wonder why and look for someone to blame.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous coverage, Larry!

Reading Hannah's emails it sounds like she started being pressured by her landlord or property manager to say everything was now swell.

There's fire behind the smoke.

It's good that in your Party House posts you usually include links to property cards; it would be worth also including links to the Hampshire County Registry of Deeds website's listings of other Amherst property holdings for the Party House owner.

Where the property card shows an LLC as the owner and/or indicates that there's a property manager, it would also be worth including links to the Massachusetts Secretary of State's Corporations Division website's Articles of Incorporation and latest Annual Report for that LLC and/or property manager. There has to be at least one name of a real person, an identifiable Resident Agent or Manager, on these corporate filings.

Another lead worth pursuing is the story of how the UMass campus went dry in the mid-1980s that was alluded to by Dr. Ed in a recent comment where I recall his saying that the University had pushed drunken behavior off campus onto the town to deal with back then.

LarryK said...

Yeah, I'm working on a story now concerning Lincoln Avenue housing that recently sold to a developer who is trying to hide his tracks by using two different LLCs.

Anonymous said...

Your basic premise that an extra person was the problem is absurd, since by law you could have 10 people in an apartment provided that they are related. When I was growing up, my parents had 4 children and we lived all quite happily in an apartment. It did not spontaneously burst into flames due to the occupancy of 6 people.

LarryK said...

Only takes one white crow to disprove the theory all crows are black. CAN

Anonymous said...

Ok, the town could do something about lousy landlords and lousy property management companies.

Eaglecrest is supposedly managing a house on my street. The grass always needs mowing and they managed the house so well last year that this year's tenants spent two days just documenting the damage in the house that the out of town landlord tried to rent them. It took about 3 weeks for somebody to repair it.

Easy money, eh, Mr Eaglecrest?

Sad Mountain said...

Anon 1242 needs to wake up. Evicting extra students is going to cause more problems than it solves. Kicking out a student midway through the semester (for a law which has not had one shred of success!) is a disaster. Odds are the student is a UMass kid, one who likely attends the school for the same reason we all do, it's more bang for the buck and we can't afford better. Now they're homeless because they tried to split a rent 5 ways instead of 4, in a town which restricts the number of renters while not protecting them from rent gouging.

I agree process the repetitious party goers, but I think it would be better for the town to implement more dissuading measures than fines. Community service would save the town on clean-up while showing the sobered students the destruction of their actions.

As for the third item, go for it. I am sure the state would go ahead with building new labs, halls, and dorms in Lowell, Boston, Dartmouth, and Worcestor. I am also sure they would pressure the town directly. If that failed they could wait until the town sees such economic repercussions job-wise that the law would be revoked.

Lastly, at Saturday at high noon I think the students were more likely hungover than drunk. But if I can believe that if you cram 25,000 egos into one town I'd call it Amherst, and you can believe 5 students in a building is a party.

Anonymous said...

Re: "Your basic premise that an extra person was the problem is absurd, since by law you could have 10 people in an apartment provided that they are related. When I was growing up, my parents had 4 children and we lived all quite happily in an apartment. It did not spontaneously burst into flames due to the occupancy of 6 people."

There is a big difference between a two adults/four child home and a six-young-adult home. Kids in a bunk bed is one thing. Grown adults in bunks? That's just sad. Strangers and families are not the same. Tall adult strangers wandering the halls are not like tiny toddlers hopping in your bed on Sunday morning.

Anonymous said...

"There is a big difference between a two adults/four child home and a six-young-adult home. Kids in a bunk bed is one thing. Grown adults in bunks? That's just sad. Strangers and families are not the same. Tall adult strangers wandering the halls are not like tiny toddlers hopping in your bed on Sunday morning. "

And, those 4 young kids in a family eventually grow up to be 4 teenagers in a family. Now you got 2 adults and 4 young adults in a family - now what's the difference?

Anonymous said...

The difference? Parents live in the house!

The lawn is cared for. The houses are painted and not peeling. There is a general sense of community because they have lived there for many years - not a rotating door every year or two. No couches on the porch. No beer pong in the yard. No bonfires at 10 PM - accompanied by alcoholic beverages. No loud sexual noises coming from the window while you eat dinner. No urinating in the back yard in broad daylight in front of your kid because the neighbors are plastered - again. No screaming at midnight and beyond. No sleepovers with girlfriends/boyfriends, doubling that capacity. Generally, too, there are much fewer cars than slum student rentals with massive parking lots on back yards (or front). Four renters equals eight cars plus guests. Try living next to that much car slamming at all hours - because these students are nocturnal.

Have you ever lived next to one of the student rentals? I do. Believe me, it's nothing like living next to a family with mom, dad, and four kids. Nothing! It's f&^% horrible.

Anonymous said...

"And, those 4 young kids in a family eventually grow up to be 4 teenagers in a family. Now you got 2 adults and 4 young adults in a family - now what's the difference?"

I'm not the OP, but I'll tell you the difference. The 2 adult Parents that value their home and neighborhood! And if that isn't enough, knowing that they will be legally held responsible for any minors drinking in their home.

LarryK said...

Well said. Both of you.

Anonymous said...

To "The Juggernaut" who said the following:
"It's a result of your town's hostility towards students. The citizens become upset they moved into a student neighborhood, take action against the students, then become upset when students find their own solutions, for better and worse."

This was not an action taken by students, these apartments are listed and shown as five bedroom apartments, which clearly is the action of the realty company NOT the students. You are unaware of what you are talking about and the rest of your commentary was just as false.