By Ray Carbone
BRADFORD – Joseph Torro, the owner of the historic Bradford Country Inn on Greenhouse Lane and a longtime resident, has filed suit in U.S. District Court in Concord against his hometown and two local town officials.
In the court papers filed in March, Torro charges that Mark Goldberg, the chief of Bradford’s fire-rescue department, and Marilyn Gordon, the town treasurer, have conspired against him in his efforts to operate the 121-year-old lodging facility that was formerly owned by Gordon. Specifically, it claims that the officials have used their political influence to create unfair roadblocks to operating the lodging business, including conspiring with the board of selectmen to withhold a property tax abatement and trying to unfairly enforce fire safety/safety codes. The town is charged because Goldberg and Gordon are municipal employees.
Joe Torro claims that two selectmen, as well as the town’s code enforcement officer, indicated that there would be no problems reopening as a bed-and-breakfast.
Neither Goldberg or Gordon responded to requests for comment last week, but in a recent story in the Concord Monitor Goldberg said that Torro is at fault for not exercising “due diligence” before purchasing the property last August.
Torro is asking the court for $2 million in monetary damages as well as an indeterminate amount of punitive damages but, sitting on the inn’s spacious wooden desk last Friday afternoon, he said he filed the suit only after numerous attempts to work out a resolution with the town failed. “The two million dollars, that was just like, ‘pay attention,’” he said. “I don’t want to sue my own town, I just want to operate a business.”
On Saturday, Karen Hambleton, Bradford’s town administrator, said that the town has no response to the lawsuit at this time.
According to the court papers, Gordon owned the building, then called the Candlelite Inn, for more than a decade before trying to sell it as either a lodging facility or a private residence sometime in 2010. At some point during that time, she became romantically involved with Goldberg and he began staying on the property.
In August 2014, Torro offered to buy the inn from Gordon, first for $175,000 and then $195,000. Both offers were turned down, but not long afterwards the facility was up for auction.
Torro made the winning bid, paying $258,000. He said that he soon began making improvements and renovations to the old building that eventually totaled over $250,000.
In his court papers, Torro claims that two selectmen, as well as Walter Royal, the town’s code enforcement officer, indicated to him that there would be no problems reopening the six-bedroom building as a bed-and-breakfast.
Shortly after the sale, Goldberg began indicating that there were major fire/safety code violations at the facility.
“It was fine when you were living here,” Torro said he responded to the fire chief’s complaints.
“If I was told up front about this by the town, that I would have to do a sprinkler system and fire alarms, things like that, I would have used some of my (repair) money for that,” Torro commented. Estimates for the work range between $75,000 and $100,000, he said.
Goldberg eventually recused himself from the inn’s safety inspection and passed the issue onto the state’s fire marshal, but that was only part of a “ruse,” the suit claims; the chief appeared uninvolved but he knew that the state’s safety regulations were more stringent than the town’s. That meant that Torro would be “subjected to different treatment than the former owner,” the legal paperwork reads.
Goldberg also remained involved in other ways as well, passing on information about the inn to the marshal’s office, according to the suit.
The suit points more directly at Gordon by asserting that she helped squash a possible property tax abatement for Torro in 2014. The select board had indicated to the owner that it would approve the option as a way of easing some of Torro’s financial stress but after a closed-door session with Gordon, the abatement prospect vanished, he said.
Although the suit was filed more than two months ago, neither the town nor the employees have made any legal response, said Rick Lehmann, the Manchester attorney working for Torro. “I am surprised,” he admitted.
Meanwhile, Torro is not legally allowed operate the Bradford Country Inn as a bed-and-breakfast; He does rents it out as a Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) property, mostly for reunions, wedding parties, etc., but that only brings in “quarters on the dollar” of what he could make as a bed-and-breakfast, he said. And although he’s invested a good amount of money into the property, he is unable to add any more. He said he’s also unable get a bank loan because of the unclear legal status of his operation.
“I’m at a standstill,” he said. But he can hold on because he has a good-paying fulltime job, he added.
“I’ve put my life savings into this,” Torro said. “And, I’m stubborn.”
This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, May 22, 2018.