GROTON -- At loggerheads with a resident with whom the Board of Health has been struggling for the past four years to clean up his 366 Lost Lake Drive property, members found themselves mired in such details as nailing down when exactly the last day of summer is.
The date was an important one, as a key provision in a letter of intent submitted to the board last month by Lawrence Johnson used the phrase "end of the summer" as the point at which he planned to demolish an existing house on his property that had been judged unsafe by the town's building inspector.
The BOH had first ordered Johnson to clean up his property in 2004 and has been working with succeeding health agents to help him do it ever since.
The board had initially responded to complaints by Johnson's neighbors before charging Johnson with a violation of the health code dealing with scattered, disorderly debris on private property that could present a fire hazard or become a haven for animals and vermin.
According to former health agent Ben Cutone, Johnson's property had been littered with old cars, wood, metal parts, swimming pool equipment and many other things, all scattered about his property.
Ira Grossman, the board's current health agent, confirmed at a 2012 hearing that the owner had worked to remove the debris but "very little" had been accomplished.
Time and again, Johnson had been given time to comply with the board's wishes and in the past had come up with reasons why he could not meet deadlines. But at a public hearing held last summer, he was able to report progress, having cleared a good portion of the yard and removed one of two cars stored there.
But with most of debris gone, the board's attention turned to the existing home, which Johnson said he planned to demolish and rebuild.
Wary of more foot-dragging, BOH member Susan Horowitz insisted at a meeting held June 17 that if the end of summer date set to have the house demolished were to be met, Johnson would have to submit an application with the town within a week or two.
Horowitz added that at the same time debris from the demolition was thrown into Dumpsters, Johnson could add in the rest of the junk still on the property as well as parts of a brokendown fence.
"That sounds pretty arbitrary," responded Johnson.
Johnson bristled when talk came around to a fence on his property that Grossman said needed to come down.
While Grossman said the building inspector condemned the fence as useless and dangerous, Johnson said that he had the word of the previous inspector that it was all right. When asked if he had anything in writing, Johnson said he did not and challenged to see something in writing from Grossman.
Finally, Johnson argued that forcing him to live up to the conditions outlined in his own deadline "sounds pretty arbitrary."
While not supporting Horowitz's position forcing Johnson to act, board chairman Jason Weber tried to reach an agreement that "the end of summer" noted in the letter of intent meant Sept. 21, the last day of summer according to the calendar.
Johnson, however, disputed the date, insisting that his interpretation of "end of summer" was more flexible.
"A flexible plan is a plan that will never be completed," noted Weber.
Finally, Grossman insisted that the Sept. 21 date be set as a deadline for the house to be demolished and the foundation for its replacement be in the ground. The board agreed, retaining the possibility of legal action against Johnson if the conditions are not met.
With outstanding issues of what to do about the fence and remaining yard cleanup, the board continued the public hearing until Aug. 5.
Also at the meeting of June 17, the board voted to recommend that the sale of the Groton Convenience Store to Ghanshyam Patel be allowed to move forward on condition that required paperwork dealing with certification of an industrial tight tank on the Boston Road property be handled at the same time.
In the past, the board had issues with the exchange of ownership dealing with water quality, the hiring of a person to oversee water quality issues, proper maintenance of the store's septic system, and pest control dealing with mice.
But with assurances from Patel that the remaining question of the tight tank had been addressed and satisfaction from Grossman that all he required from the owner was the proper forms and releases signed and delivered, board members voted not to contest the sale and transfer of the business as scheduled on July 1.
Selectmen have already voted to approve the transfer of a beer and wine package store license as well as an alcohol package store liquor license from Groton Convenience to the new owner.