Homeowner Fights Batting Cage At Cole

The batting cage planned for Cole Middle School would sit on the west side of the school.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

It seemed like a nice idea – the EG Little League wanted to donate batting cages to the high school and Cole Middle School that could be used by school teams as well as Little League teams. The School Committee approved the offer last spring and equipment appeared at Cole to install the batting cage last Memorial Day weekend.

Except that placement of the proposed batting cage at Cole was on the west side of the school, the side closest to Sarah’s Trace, the street on which homeowners had sued the town over construction of the school in 2011 and which resulted in a settlement in 2015. When construction of the batting cage began, a Sarah’s Trace homeowner called police, citing a breach of the settlement. Police stopped the construction.

Now, nearly a year later, Little League representatives are hoping to get the construction back on track. The double batting cage at the high school was erected without incident after the failed attempt at Cole.

The challenge at Cole is there aren’t very many place to put the batting cages, Athletics Director Chris Cobain told the School Committee Tuesday night. He said there were only two sites at the school that don’t have anything to do with drainage, sewage, or electrical lines. One is near the tennis courts, close to houses on Wanton Shippee Road. The other is the side that abuts properties on Sarah’s Trace. Cobain said they chose the area closer to Sarah’s Trace because of the generous landscape buffer there. There is no such buffer on the Wanton Shippee side.

Cobain said he spoke with the homeowners who’d called the police.

“I talked to the family and heard, “We will fight, we will fight tooth and nail,” he said.

School Committee members said they needed to know just want was included in the settlement. If it was about equipment, could EGLL use hand tools to install the batting cage, they asked.

Committeeman Matt Plain said there was a difference between whether or not the settlement contained language about construction of something like a batting cage at Cole and the batting cage itself.

EGLL representative Russ Marcantonio agreed.

“If you let the threats of lawsuits dictate how you operate, that’s a bad precedent,” he said.

The School Committee decided to have their lawyer talk to the town about the issue, since it is the town that has the settlement with the homeowners.

School and Little League officials said they hoped the issue could be ironed out before spring baseball begins in earnest.

 

In Cole Construction Trial, Homeowners Detail Damage to Homes

The Amelotte house, 35 Sarah's Trace.
The Amelotte house, 35 Sarah’s Trace.

The homeowners who filed suit against the town, school department and others over damage they say was caused by construction of the new Cole Middle School, took centerstage at the jury trial before Superior Court Bennett Gallo this week.

“I was getting ready for work one morning and I was in the shower,” said Tom Hogan of 40 Sarah’s Trace on the stand Tuesday. “I felt this startling vibration. I thought I was going to have to run out of the house real quick…. I’ve never been in an earthquake, but that’s what I thought it was.”

That was the first time Hogan said he felt shaking in his house, in late November 2009. Hogan’s house abuts the Cole Middle School property. Construction on the new school, which was built next to the old school, began that same month.

According to Hogan, it was his partner, Cynthia Pelosi, who first noticed a crack they thought was caused by the construction vibrations, in the kitchen.

“It was quite obvious, a good-size crack that looked like it just happened,” he testified.

As the months went on, he said, they noticed cracks and gaps throughout their house and garage in walls, ceilings, cabinets and counters.

Hogan and Pelosi teamed up with next-door neighbors Chris and Susan Lamendola (at 50 Sarah’s Trace) – hiring the same lawyer and taking many of the same steps, including hiring the engineering firm Exponent to do additional property surveys (after two had been done by engineers hired by the town). Chris Lamendola testified on Monday and Susan testified Tuesday.

On cross examination, Hogan was asked whether one of the school project’s engineers, Pare, had concluded there was no structural damage to his house. Hogan agreed that Pare had concluded there was no structural damage.

“He didn’t advise you to move out?” asked John Donovan, lawyer for construction company Manafort Bros., about the Pare engineer.

“No,” said Hogan.

Pelosi also took the stand this week. She, too, recounted the initial vibration instances.

“How has this experience affected you?” said Maglio.

“I just feel these cracks were happening before my eyes and I couldn’t do anything to stop it,” Pelosi said.

Keith Amelotte, who lives at 35 Sarah’s Trace with his wife, Wendy, and their two children, testified they started experiencing problems he linked to the school construction in April 2010.

Amelotte said his garage, house and pool had been damaged, noting cracks in some places and unlevel flooring in others.

In cross examination, Manafort lawyer Donovan asked about the conditions of the house and property before 2009. He cited a sink hole near the pool and problems with the asphalt driveway, in particular, that were noted in the inspection before the Amelottes bought the house.

Donovan also asked Amelotte if he and his wife had been able to refinance their house recently.

Yes, Amelotte said, they had.

Testimony continues Thursday at Kent County Courthouse. You can find an archive of EG News stories about the homeowner lawsuit here. 


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Town, Sarah’s Trace Residents Negotiating Property Assessments

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Two of the three houses where owners argue their property assessments should be zero.

Residents suing the town over house damage they say was caused by the construction of the new Cole Middle School are negotiating with the town over property assessments they say should be zero.

The three couples own houses on Sarah’s Trace, which sits south and west of the middle school. According to their lawsuit, their houses suffered cracks throughout because of the large vibratory rollers used to compact the ground during construction.

The last tax assessments were “statistical” revaluations – based on existing information in the assessment files and an analysis of current market conditions, not on visits to the property (as is being done now).

When the Sarah’s Trace residents appealed their tax assessments in 2012, the revaluation company visited each of the houses and, taking into account cracks seen during the visits, they deemed the two properties closest to the middle school to be in “poor” condition and the third house, which is across the street, in “fair” condition.

Property assessments are split into two to three categories: a value is placed on the actual land, another value is placed on the building on the land (houses in these cases), and a third value is given if there are “yard items” such as a pool or a shed.

Fair and poor classifications allow for a 20 percent depreciation in the assessed value of the buildings on the property. There is no depreciation in the land value.

For the Lamendola house, at 50 Sarah’s Trace, the new, reduced valuation was $501,700 – the land valued at $174,400, the house valued at $311,600, and the yard items (a pool and two shed) valued at $15,700.

For the Hogan/Pelosi house, at 40 Sarah’s Trace, the reduced valuation was $400,100 – land at $158,700 and house at $241,400.

For the Amellotte house, at 35 Sarah’s Trace, the reduced valuation was $435,000, with the land at $149,000, the house at $277,000, and the yard items (pool and shed) at $9,200.

The reductions, however, were not enough for the homeowners, who are looking for the whole value – land, buildings and yard items – of their properties to be reduced to zero.

They appealed the decision to the town Board of Assessment Review, which was to hear the case March 12 but the town called off the hearing that morning after the two sides decided to try to negotiate a settlement.

“We’re exploring whether we can reach a resolution. They’re not worth nothing,” said EG Town Solicitor Peter Clarkin about the properties. “We decided before we go through the whole [appeal] process, to see if there’s something we can do to resolve it.”

He added, “There’s no harm in seeing if we can do something. If it turns out we’re miles apart, then …”

If the town Board of Assessment Review denies the homeowners’ appeal, they could appeal to Superior Court.

Dave Maglio, lawyer for the homeowners, declined to comment on the exact nature of the negotiations but he did offer a comparison to explain how houses people are still living in could be worth nothing. He likened them to a business in financial straits.

“The stock of that business can be considered worthless,” he said. 

The two sides have agreed to talk until May 14, the date of the next Board of Assessment Review meeting.