Prospective buyers show little interest in Rockport ‘gift house’

By David Rattigan
Globe Correspondent / January 12, 2012
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Perhaps it was the sub-freezing temperatures outside, organizers theorized, or maybe the time of year, but when the town held a public information session last Wednesday about a four-bedroom home available for just $220,000, only one person showed up.

And that was a curious neighbor.

“I’ve watched it go through many phases, from a hole in the ground to this,’’ said John Coletta, who lives on the other side of the street. As he went on to explain, not all of the phases were pleasant ones.

With applications due Feb. 6 for a lottery scheduled Feb. 15, the town is trying to create interest in the truly unusual affordable house at 30 Pleasant St., a short walk to the downtown and Dock Square. It has 1,300 square feet and four bedrooms, plus a marble fireplace, two bathrooms, a whirlpool, and brass fixtures. It’s in an upscale community with a low crime rate and good school system. It also has a history that has made it locally infamous.

Owner James Angelini offered to give the house, then located on Marmion Way, to the town in 2001 rather than tear it down to make way for construction of a new home. The town accepted the gift and decided to move the house to the former site of a Department of Public Works storage area on Pleasant Street. But while excavators were digging a new foundation in 2002, they discovered what appeared to be contaminants in the soil. A specialist later confirmed the property was tainted by an array of chemicals stored there in the 1950s and 1960s.

Ten years later, the cost of the environmental remediation, the move, and a series of other repair and construction costs is up to $557,773. Although $125,000 of that was paid by the state because of the town’s intention to create affordable housing, the house has developed a reputation.

It is referred to locally, and often ruefully, as “the gift house.’’

“They look at the gift as a white elephant,’’ said Town Administrator Linda Sanders. “But the reality is that the site was going to have to be cleaned up eventually anyway.’’

As the town dealt with raising the money and remediating the contamination, the house developed other issues, including some that are common to unoccupied houses, such as water damage from burst pipes when someone left the water on, and a failed heating system. The price tag increased with every setback, and rumors began attaching themselves to the property.

“For years it was just there, and for four years it had a chain link fence around it,’’ Coletta said, noting that with the vegetation growing high inside the chain link, “it looked like Guantanamo Bay for a while.’’

At the meeting, Coletta said he was interested in whether there might still be traces of contamination at the site, which the state Department of Environmental Protection has signed off on. And he mentioned that one of his neighbors thought he saw a bird entering the house near the eaves.

Sanders said she heard similar stories when she arrived in town in January 2010 that the house was infested with animals, and rotting. She checked with the Board of Health before going to take a look inside.

“I went expecting to see a wreck,’’ she said. “Actually, it’s pretty nice inside.’’

Sanders said she’s dealt with all of the home’s issues and has had town inspectors review the building, wiring, and plumbing.

“They came up with things, and we knocked them off one at a time until we got through it,’’ Sanders said.

The Board of Selectmen had asked that it be sold as soon as it was ready, and the house went on the market last month.

Three potential buyers showed up for Sunday’s open house, along with some neighbors.

But as this story was written, the consultant marketing the property, Jill Onderdonk, said that she had no applicants. She noted that tougher lending practices made it generally more difficult for buyers to qualify, but that this was a great deal for the right buyer.

“You don’t find many [affordable homes] with a legitimate four bedrooms,’’ she said. The house will be sold to an income-eligible first-time buyer. If there are one or more qualified candidates, he or she will be picked in the lottery, scheduled for Feb. 15.

Eligibility varies by family size: A family of four must make an annual income of $65,000 or less, a family of six $75,400 or less, a single person $45,500 or less. Other restrictions also apply. Applications are due by Feb. 6 to JWO Consultant Services, PO Box 323, Westwood, MA 02090.

Applications and other information are available at Town Hall, the public library, the Rockport Housing Department, online at, or by calling 781-329-8201.

If there are no buyers at the time of the lottery, the town will continue to market the property.

Coletta said that neighbors would get together to clear the vegetation from the property a couple of times each year, but that the area behind the lot had become a spot for teenagers to congregate to drink beer, and particularly when the fence was up, some neighbors were concerned about the impact of the vacant home on property values.

“It’s nice to see something happening again,’’ he said. “It’s a great neighborhood. Up and down the whole street is nice.’’

Former longtime selectman Charles Clark said that the town probably should have tested the land before deciding to move the building, but once the contamination was discovered, the town had to clean it up.

“I don’t think there’s a negative vibe toward the house,’’ he said. “I think there’s a negative vibe toward the process, because it’s taken so long.’’

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