Kay Visconti pulled into the driveway of 40 High Bridge Road in Sandy Hook in the middle of a driving rainstorm, ready to peruse the bargains the 72-year-old Bethel resident had read about in a newspaper classified ad.
"Giant Warehouse Tag Sale," according to the ad Visconti had circled in the classified section. "56,000 sq ft of stuff, plan on spending a few hours."
But the enthusiasm quickly turned into disappointment after Visconti learned that the four-day event had been called off following the issuance of a cease-and-desist order to organizers of the tag sale.
"It's a big disappointment," Visconti said. "It sounded like it had something for everybody."
Zonng and building officials shut down the sale and ordered the nonprofit organizing the event, Sandy Hook-based Make A Home Foundation, to move out the items, which had been stored in the warehouse.
"It's a public safety issue," said George Benson, head of the land use department, which issued a cease-and-desist order Friday.
Among some of the issues with the warehouse is a partially collapsed roof, no electricity, no running water and as a result no working sprinklers, officials said, adding those conditions make it unsafe for members of the public to be inside.
Zoning Enforcement Officer Cathy Monckton was driving past the property when she saw the signs advertising the tag sale, which was a surprise to her because the warehouse had been vacant for about five years, Benson said.
She and other town officials went to investigate and found the Make a Home Foundation had moved items into the warehouse recently and planned the sale without the necessary town permits, prompting the issuance of a cease-and-desist order, officials said. Any change of use to the property requires a zoning permit.
Officials also said they were concerned that a large hole in the warehouse roof had compromised the building's structural integrity. Last winter's heavy storms apparently contributed to the partial roof collapse.
Newtown Building Official Poeltl said that upon further inspection, the area around the hole in the roof had been shored up and roped off, making it safe enough for workers to be inside to clear out the items but not for the general public. Clearing the warehouse is a priority, he said.
"You can't leave all of that stuff in there without sprinklers," Poeltl said.
Dan Telesco, who operates the nonprofit with his wife, Anita Pettengill, said the couple have a 10-year lease on the property and had moved in the items, intending to hold a tag sale a few times a year as a way to reduce their inventory and cover some of their gas, utility and other expenses. Make A Home collects and distributes donated goods to help veterans and families in need.
"We rented it for storage," Telesco said of the warehouse. "I don't see the place as being a fire hazard."
None of the items are combustible and smoking is not allowed in or near the structure, according to Telesco, adding that without electricity and water to the building, he believed there was little risk of a fire.
"There's nothing there to catch on fire," he said.
Telesco also said while there was a gaping hole in the roof – which he said was the size of a two-car garage – workers had shored it up, making it safe, although admittedly a wet place to stand when it rains.
Still, Telesco said he would abide by the town's order. He has plans to meet an electrician at the site on Monday, he said.
"I'm going to try to get the electricity and fire sprinkler on by next week," he said.