AYER -- Residents filled the meeting room at Town Hall Tuesday night to discuss the state of the McNiff Farm at 64 Westford Road.

Resident Paul Magno argues the property should be deemed a nuisance, citing vehicles that have not moved in years and several buildings that seem unsafe.

The issue has been brought to selectmen before, but they have failed to take firm action, Magno argued in a letter to the board.

"You've deemed some properties a nuisance based on the appearance of what's in the front yard; you've had a house taken down," Magno said Tuesday. "With this one, there hasn't seemed to be any action on it."

Magno said the public can only suspect that possible friendships are blocking selectmen from taking any action.

But the Board of Health and police and building departments did not find any violations with the property.

Building Commissioner Gabriel Vellante Jr. said one building has half its roof caved in, but it does not pose a danger to the public unless someone is trespassing on the property. Police Chief William Murray also noted the police inspected vehicles sitting on the property and found them in compliance.

Selectman Pauline Conley said the board cannot make McNiff change his property if there is no violation.

"We can't go on to Mr. McNiff's property, so I'm at a loss to understand what we can do," Conley said. "We can't just sit here tonight and vote to declare it a nuisance.


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Ralph McNiff said he has cleaned up this year, moving many of the trucks out of the yard. But his nonstop work schedule and health have caused some setbacks.

"I've been there 40-something odd years just like any other farmer, and anybody that wants to come down and get mad at me can get mad at me, but it all takes time to clean up," he said.

The board told McNiff he would have until May to clean up his yard.

Selectman Christopher Hillman took issue with the fact the board had gone after property that was not as bad as McNiff's, but has not acted on this complaint. In the past the board had voted to take down a building on Willard Street.

"My frustration right now is more with this body, that has said that property enforcement was an issue when it was really gung-ho, and all of a sudden it has stopped," he said.

Jim Nash, who had also addressed an email to selectmen, said McNiff did a great job of cleaning up his property so far, but it seemed like the effort just stopped.

"It just seems like if we don't keep pushing, nothing's going to change," Nash said. "If the gentleman says he's going to do these things, I'd like to know when he's going to do them."

A few came to McNiff's defense, including former Selectman Frank Maxant, who argued that the people who moved into the area did not research it before making the big decision to move next to a farm.

"My attitude is, 'why should they have anybody's ear if they have no responsibility to themselves to this degree?" Maxant said.

Resident Patrick McCormick, another neighbor, suggested everyone act as good neighbors, working together to clean up the debris.

"If anybody walks away with anything tonight, let's walk away saying what we can do together to help Mr. McNiff," he said.

The board also agreed to release a few permits for the financially frozen Willows neighborhood development. Willow Road Development, LLC, owes the town $250,000, which is years overdue.

Selectmen ordered all permits withheld from the development until payment was made, but developer Mark O'Hagan said the project just does not have the money.

O'Hagan asked the board to receive permits so that he could begin work on five other units, which would bring in more money.

"We need to keep moving to be able to build the houses to generate the resources to pay the town," he said.

The board voted to give the developers four occupancy permits for houses that have already been completed and five building permits for future houses.

In exchange, the company will give the town $12,000 for each of the four houses they are expecting to close. The total of $48,000 would go into escrow.

O'Hagan said he can give the board a closer review of other units he has planned for the next 60 days so that the town can try and receive all $250,000 by the end of 2014.

Selectmen also voted to waive one former resident's loan of $15,991 after he fell on hard times.

Robert Vear, owner of 19 Oakridge Drive, said he came across financial hardships that drove him to a point where he could not afford his house. He is now living in another state, he said, and needs to get rid of his property as quickly as possible.

"I want to see the property go into somebody's good hands and see money put into it so it becomes another nice house in the neighborhood," Vear said.

The board voted 3-1 to approve it, with Hillman voting against because he believed it set a bad precedent.

"Obviously you've had some circumstances, but there's a lot of people in town that have had some really bad circumstances and their mortgage company hasn't forgiven them," he said.