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A fire that consumed a long-vacant home at 155 New Road is being investigated as arson. (Photo by Jesse Williams/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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A July 24 fire that destroyed a vacant house at 155 New Road is still under investigation, as state police dogs detected possible accelerants at the site, according to Madison Police Captain Joe Race.
“Someone set it on fire,” he said.
Because there was no electricity at the house and no lightning that night, it was already doubtful that the fire was an accident, according to Race. He said police dogs found “two or three” places where fire-starting chemicals were possibly used. Samples were taken and are still being processed at the state lab.
At this point, however, Race said it is unlikely the investigation turns up any suspects unless someone comes forward with information. There are no cameras near the property, he said, and other physical evidence was likely destroyed inadvertently as fire crews attempted to put out the blaze.
A fire set on purpose at that particular property is odd, Race said, due to the property being set back from the road and almost entirely hidden by foliage.
“No one knows that house is there,” he said.
Race said the owner of 155 New Road, who he described as an investor who owns many properties, had been at the property the morning before the fire, and had been in contact with police afterward.
The property had been vacant for 15 years before burning down. According to public records, the property at 155 New Road had been sold to a company called 155 New Road Madison, LLC, on July 11 for $1.1 million, just under two weeks before the fire.
State records showed that 155 New Road Madison, LLC, was formed on Feb. 26, and its principal owner is listed as Horton, LLC. Horton, LLC’s owner is listed as Kenneth Horton.
Kenneth Horton is also a principal owner of Horton Group, a residential and commercial construction firm based in Madison that has worked on several large commercial and residential projects along the shoreline, including a luxury condominium development in Guilford.
The 155 New Road property has also recently been a focal point of a newly passed zoning regulation in Madison.
On July 9, two days before the sale of the 155 New Road property, the Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) approved a regulation for something called a “floating zone”; 155 New Road, LLC was listed as a petitioner for this change.
According to Director of Planning & Economic Development Dave Anderson, a floating zone allows the owners of properties that are designated by the PZC as “opportunity areas” to apply for something called a planned development district (PDD). The property owner can present a plan to the PZC, and if approved, the planned development district “will supersede all pre-existing zoning on the specific property and any development on the rezoned property will be subject to the specific PDD requirements.”
PDD zoning allows for the construction of a wide variety of facilities, including medical and professional offices, retail and retail-restaurants, breweries, walking or biking trails, and out-patient and urgent care facilities, among others. It also specifically disallows certain uses, including auto repair shops, tattoo parlors, storage facilities, and manufacturing.
155 New Road is currently the only property designated an opportunity zone, Anderson said, and therefore the only property that can apply for a PDD. He emphasized, however, that the regulation was not targeted at any particular property, and is simply a tool that the PZC can use at their discretion. The regulation also does not change any requirement for public hearings during the application and building process, according to Anderson.
155 New Road was seen as a good opportunity area because of its proximity to the interstate and the Eversource office facility, which makes it a poor location for residential development, according to Anderson.
Though there have been no official discussions, Anderson said there are other possible opportunity areas besides 155 New Road in Madison.
The owner or owners of 155 New Road have not submitted a proposal, though Anderson said he believes “they are exploring their opportunities.”
Calls to Horton Group requesting more information about the property were not returned at press time.
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