BURKE — Persistence paid off in the town’s effort to serve a property owner with notice of a lawsuit.
On the seventh try a Caledonia County Sheriff’s Deputy connected with Rick Schwag, of Lyndon, and handed him information about the town of Burke’s lawsuit that seeks to compel Schwag to address property concerns at 45 Vt. Rt. 5A in West Burke.
The suit was filed with Caledonia Superior Court on Dec. 2, 2020, but the case stalled because the town couldn’t prove to the court that Schwag had been served notice.
Shortly after the suit was filed, Burke Town and Zoning Administrator Mike Harris requested that a sheriff’s deputy serve Schwag, who lives on Cold Hill Road in Lyndon. The department tried four times to serve him with the complaint but was unsuccessful.
Believing contact with Schwag was not going to happen no matter how many times the sheriff’s department tried, Harris petitioned the court to allow for a “tack order,” which means a sheriff’s deputy could leave the paperwork at Schwag’s property without needing to make face-to-face contact with him.
During the Burke Select Board meeting on Monday, Harris said he recently learned the court had rejected the town’s request for a tack order and directed the town to keep trying to serve Schwag the paperwork in person.
Harris reconnected with the sheriff’s department asking them to try again.
It took Deputy Larry Stewart another three tries but contact was made on Saturday and Schwag officially received notice of the lawsuit.
“Yeah,” said Harris when he learned about it Tuesday afternoon.
He said he was relieved to finally get the service step out of the way in order to get onto the court calendar.
“The whole point is to sit down with [Schwag],” said Harris. With a court-directed process, Harris said, he hopes Schwag will respond to court orders and timelines to address property needs. He said he fears Schwag may not respond to the court process in a timely manner, but it’s the best course for the town.
“At least it’s a consistent pathway through it,” said Harris.
Town officials have been pushing Schwag to address needs at the property for a while. Harris said he believes three families live in the building and Schwag has failed to ensure his building is safe for them to be there. Harris said the yard has a lot of garbage and it appears there’s a damaged well-head. Also, a fire safety inspection needs to be done.
The court complaint notes failures by Schwag of zoning bylaws, the town’s junk ordinance and health violations.
Harris told the board on Monday that he was able to reach Schwag by phone recently. They spoke about the Route 5A property and a second West Burke apartment building that Schwag owns that was destroyed by fire last summer. Officials are anxiously waiting for Schwag to clean up the building’s charred remains. They say the partially standing structure is dangerous. An official “Do not enter” order is posted on a porch roof support column.
Harris said the conversation with Schwag was cordial, but he’s not sure if Schwag is trying to intentionally be difficult with his properties or whether he is struggling with so many property problems that he doesn’t know where to begin. Schwag has problems with properties he owns in Lyndonville and Concord in addition to the West Burke properties.
Schwag is behind on his property taxes in Burke, and Harris reminded him that since one of his properties is uninhabitable due to the fire, he can qualify for a tax abatement.
“I’m not trying to be mean or be mad at him we just have to deal with this,” said Harris.