Dispute over firewood business on church property takes contentious turn | News

DANVERS — Three months after a consultant hired by the town of Danvers found numerous safety, environmental and zoning violations at the site of a church-owned firewood operation on Andover Street, officials have put the church’s pastor on notice that they will begin taking steps toward enforcement, including potentially going to court.

“Having exhausted to no avail all reasonable means of working cooperatively with (Great Rock Church) to resolve these issues, the undersigned town enforcement officials are compelled to caution that in the absence of GRC’s full and imminent compliance with town legal requirements governing the property, we intend to take any and all available enforcement proceedings, including without limitation and as applicable fines, enforcement and/or cease and desist orders, and Superior Court litigation to obtain, among other possibilities, GRC’s immediate compliance,” said the letter, signed by five town officials.

But the pastor of the non-denominational church, Mat Nadworny, disputes that, saying the church has done or is in the process of completing everything that was asked of it and suggested that the town’s actions are “bordering on harassment of a nonprofit church that is helping over 1,000 people in our community as well as feeding thousands (overseas).”

The church owns a building and land at 352 Andover St., where they previously held services, and at 256 Andover St., where services and other religious activities are now performed. The older site had been used as a thrift store, but is now the site of a firewood operation that the church says provides fuel for its wood-fired boiler in the new church and helps support its mission overseas.

Abutters at the Rose Court condominiums have complained of noise from saws and log splitting machines, as well as insects. The town, meanwhile, has concerns about the impact on adjacent wetlands, fire hazards and other health and safety issues.

The church has contended that the work on their property is protected by the Dover Amendment, a 1950s state law that limits the roles of cities and towns in determining where religious activities can take place. The law does allow communities to enforce safety and environmental regulations, however.

Among the still-unresolved issues at the 352 Andover St. site, the officials cited in their letter, are a lack of compliance with a 2019 Conservation Commission order to stop working within a buffer zone, an ongoing fire risk that needs to be cleaned up, learning of a person living in the basement of a thrift store without an occupancy permit and the use of a parked camper as another living quarters, and wood piles covering nearly all available paved land on the property.

The letter goes on to warn that in the absence of an agreement to let town officials onto the property to conduct an inspection, officials will seek a warrant.

The letter was signed by the town’s health director, deputy fire chief, planning director, building commissioner and director of land use and community services.

In response, Nadworny accused the town officials of lying and exaggerating about the situation, of discriminating against the church, and of being biased toward the adjacent Rose Court cond6 owners, and said the church was not given a time frame for resolving the issues.

Nadworny’s email, sent Thursday evening to the officials and Town Manager Steve Bartha, included a screenshot of the letter with the paragraph circled, along with a question mark.

“It should be noted that this is an outright lie and exaggeration of the truth,” Nadworny wrote. “(…) all records will show via email, (meetings) and notices from the town that we have fully complied with (a)nything asked of us. The threat to obtain some kind of warrant to view our property is unnecessary to say the least.. (L)et it be known to all involved that anyone from the town, state, police department, or fire department, can come and view our property anytime. The threat of a warrant is discriminatory in our estimation.”

Nadworny went on to suggest that the church is being singled out for enforcement and cited “violations that have lasted for years” on other properties.

In response to a request for comment from The Salem News, Nadworny said “The church has done everything it possibly could to live peacefully with the town and the residents at Rose Court.”

He said the church has done a site walk with the Fire Department, moved the wood pile away from the buffer zone, hired a wetlands scientist to flag wetlands and hired an engineer to develop a site plan, identified the people living and working on the site, and provided photographs of the equipment there.

“We have done everything on our end and have complied with everything the town has asked us,” Nadworny continued. “Now we are being threatened to obtain search warrants, threatened to put our elderly people in harm’s way if we cannot produce the correct amount of wood to heat our buildings, threatened to put our church buildings and structures in harm’s way if they cannot be properly heated. Again we have complied with everything the town has asked us.”

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis