AYER -- Building Commissioner Gabe Vellante provided selectmen with an update Sept. 11 on several privately owned properties that have come under close board scrutiny in recent months.

Landlord Hugh Ernisse owns two such properties. At 14 Williams St., Vellante said there is a new complaint that Ernisse has turned his property into "a junkyard." That matter has been turned over to the Board of Health.

Meanwhile, at Ernisse's 128 Washington St. home, a tenant there has a restraining order in place against Ernisse. Vellante said Ernisse states the order prevents him from entering the property to repair a rotted deck, which provides egress to the house. Vellante recommended a letter warning of the potential of $1,000-per-day fines.

"Hopefully, that will get his attention," said Vellante.

Ernisse was not present for the meeting.

Sandy Pond Road

Vellante advised that "nothing" has happened at 71 Sandy Pond Road over the past two weeks. A strongly worded letter co-drafted by Vellante and Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand was put on hold in hopes that the owner would resume work to clear stacked trees and an accessory shed from the front yard.

"We have no problem executing the policy of this board," said Pontbriand. "We felt the authorization to send it would have to come from the Board of Selectmen" since significant legal costs could result from proceeding into court.

The wheelchair-bound owner of the property, Mark Velardi, appeared at the meeting and blasted the board for publicly discussing the condition of his property last month without providing him notice so he could attend. Velardi said he caught a rerun of the meeting on the prior Sunday night.

"You guys made me look like the total bad guy, OK?" said Velardi. "You say you reached out with the 'olive branch.' It was more like the devil's hand."

Velardi said a June 8 meeting with himself, Vellante, Pontbriand and selectman Chris Hillman went well, but suggested the goodwill may be gone. "This is why we shouldn't have closed door meetings," said Velardi. "People don't know what's really going on behind the scenes."

Earlier in the year, the selectmen had agreed that property owners would be notified before their conditions were discussed in open session. "You said that would never happen again. No one ever notified me," said Velardi.

Hillman said Velardi promised "significant progress" by the end of June to clear his front yard. "We shook hands, you left and nothing was done."

Velardi flashed a photograph of bed sores he was suffering from following a five-month hospitalization. "Against the doctor's orders" he began moving the items in the front yard until his heavy equipment fell into disrepair. "Other than being harassed by everyone here, I said I'd work with you," said Velardi.

"Clean up your goddamn yard, Mark," railed Hillman.

"That's a mortal sin," said Velardi of Hillman's word choice.

"This is a waste of my time," answered Hillman.

Chairman Jim Fay suggested a firm deadline or the town will proceed into court. "Basically, everyone I've ever met would like to avoid court proceedings -- are you of the same line? ... When are you going to have your property in compliance?... I just need to know when -- 30 days, 60 days, 90 days? You tell me."

"Ninety days," said Velardi.

"That's fine if there is some progress," said Selectman Gary Luca. "But we've been down this road before."

The storage yard was located in the front yard some 3 to 5 years ago, estimated Vellante.

Velardi said the contractor who built the building erroneously advised him that no permit was needed. Velardi said he'd move the building to the side or back yard but "You guys are putting water on my land."

Velardi said it's a water battle that's brewed with the DPW ever since he purchased the property. "That was never taken care of. I still have water coming onto my property."

Hillman mumbled words to the effect that he was "banging" his "head against the wall."

Velardi mumbled a retort and Hillman exploded. 

"Excuse me, are you threatening me?" said Hillman. The two exchanged more heated volleys before Hillman blurted, "This is going nowhere."

"We need a firm commitment that will not stretch another 5 years," said Fay. "I've never been advised of any water problem on your yard. I'll certainly look into it." Fay said the matter would be explored further at the selectmen's next meeting on Sept. 25.

Hillman said to Velardi, "Obviously, you and I will not see eye to eye, which is fine." Hillman admitted the property isn't loaded with trash. "It's just subtle stuff. I don't know why you've got it against me. So be it."

Vellante suggested the shed be relocated on the site or that Velardi seek a variance. "If you want to come into my office... we can go over what you need to do," offered Vellante.

West Main Street

The board later voted to notify the owner of 65 West Main St. to remove trash from that yard within 30 days or the board will proceed into court for an order.

The Board of Health has already authorized the Nashoba Associated Boards of Health to act on the situation. Fay suggested "a two-pronged approach may be expeditious."

Selectman Frank Maxant abstained from that vote, stating he doesn't like "interference with property rights. I see just yard trash, nothing that interferes with the community."

Hillman disagreed, noting he's seen the owner sleeping in his truck and "falling down on the ground."

Fay said it's a "fear of life issue."

"I'd rather let someone make their own choices," insisted Maxant.

"That's not what we're talking about here," countered Fay.

"Well, it sounds like it's close," said Maxant.

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