A public hearing was held at the municipal building on September 15, 2008 to hear an appeal to Tyrone Borough Council from Attorney David C. Mason of Philipsburg, for the Condemnation and Demolition Order Notice of an Unfit/Unsafe Structure for Human Occupancy at 978-980 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Mason represents William Loner, who is the owner of the downtown structure that is known as the Garman building. Loner has not met the requests from borough Code Enforcement Officer Jim Metzgar, nor previous code officer, Tom Lang, to bring the structure into compliance.
The issue between Loner and the borough has been ongoing since January of 2003.
At the special meeting, borough Zoning Solicitor Michael Emerick filled in for Solicitor Larry Clapper, who had a conflict of interest with the appeal. Metzgar and Loner’s attorney, both made their respected cases to council on the issue at hand.
Metzgar presented council and Mason a timeline of events leading up to the present demolition order of Loner’s structure. He explained that the east and south walls of the building are open, and that the condition of the building is a “danger” to the public.
“There hasn’t been any attempts by Mr. Loner to fix both walls,” said Metzgar. “He did make an attempt to fix the one wall, but quit, because it had to be enclosed with a one hour fire rated wall and brought up to code.”
He added, “Since then, there’s been no attempts to address the east wall and it’s been open to weather elements for well over two years.”
The south wall of the building is a shared wall with adjacent property owners, Paolo A. and Francesco D. D’Ottavio. Metzgar stated that the hole in that wall has progressed a great deal, nearing five to six feet in diameter.
Council members commented on the fact that the building has been blocked off due to its structural condition, and has caused the borough to close a parking lot that was used for revenue.
Loner’s attorney argued that the D’Ottavio’s lack of attention to their connecting property caused the conditions of his client’s building.
The borough’s engineer service, CET Engineering, has done several site inspections dating back to September 23, 2005, and did another inspection on May 12, 2008 with Loner, the D’Ottavio’s and their attorney, Dan Ratchford, and the borough solicitor.
In the May 12 report, CET Engineering states that “the adjoining D’Ottavio building has not been maintained and is in a state of disrepair. Several years ago it did suffer damage due to a fire and rehabilitation effort due to that damage was started, but never completed.”
The report goes on to say that a defective gutter on the rear porch roof of the D’Ottavio building appears to be directing collected rainfall onto the Loner building in the area of the wall collapse. Since the wall failure, the rainfall is now being directed into the building and is contributing to the saturated rubble and wet and spongy floors.
“The neighbor diverted the rain water right into Loner’s building, and the borough’s Code Enforcement Officer Tom Lang at the time knew about it,” said Mason. “That’s something that should of been addressed between the borough and Mr. D’Ottavio.”
Mason continued by saying that he and his client feel that the borough has been unwilling to prosecute the D’Ottavio’s unfixed violations with the same strength that they have with Loner.
Loner’s attorney doesn’t deny that his client’s building needs repairs, but he thinks that Loner is being singled out by “selective prosecution.”
“It’s difficult for Mr. Loner,” said Mason. “You need to apply the borough ordinances uniformly, and not choose a target and draw the line in the sand – they can’t make an example out of Mr. Loner.”
Metzgar said that he has discussed some issues with the D’Ottavio’s on their building, and they have placed a new roof and gutters on the structure.
“There’s certainly some other things that need addressed with them as well, but they are willing to work with the borough on their issues,” explained Metzgar. “Mr. Loner, on the other hand, refuses to be in compliance with the violations that the previous code enforcement officer had on, as well as some of the issues I had.”
As for a resolution to the Loner building issues, Mason said he just recently received notice from the borough on the demolition order. Metzgar believes there will be more appeals, which can become a lengthy legal process.
“Mr. Loner does not want to demolish the building,” stated Metzgar. “He has returned every phone call I’ve made to him and we’ve been in a good relationship as far as communication goes.”
Metzgar also said that Loner informed him that he was in the process of possibly selling some of his buildings and receiving appraisals, so he thinks that is a positive step for a solution to his Pennsylvania Avenue structure.
“This is a very dangerous building,” noted Metzgar. “CET’s report explains that in detail, and that building could come down like a deck of cards with just high winds.”
He added that one of the biggest issues for the borough is that it is “landlocked” and not much development occurs. He said that some of the buildings downtown are an “eyesore,” and if Tyrone wants development to rise with the new I-99 corridor opening, property owners need to address violations with their buildings.