Lower Burrell Council OKs agreement with Burrell Plaza owner

Liz Hayes
| Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, 12:36 a.m.

Lower Burrell Council on Monday approved an agreement with The Widewaters Group that settles a dispute over alleged code violations at Burrell Plaza.

The city in March sent Widewaters an enforcement notice that deemed the vacant J.C. Penney and Montgomery Ward buildings to be a nuisance and dangerous. Officials listed concerns including a lack of sprinklers and security, the presence of asbestos, questionable wiring and structural integrity, and general disrepair of the property.

The dispute initially seemed headed for an appeal hearing, but the two parties were able to reach an agreement in recent months.

In the settlement, Widewaters agreed to repair various signs, fascia, awnings, wiring, fencing, outlet covers, doors and walls. Many of the repairs involve fixing or painting damaged and aging exterior elements, boarding up or otherwise securing areas of possible entry, and clearing weeds and shrubbery.

Widewaters also agreed to remove items identified as combustible during a June 26 inspection by city code and fire officials. Those items include shelving, desks, display racks, cash registers, computers, paper or wooden debris, cans of paint and other miscellaneous materials.

The agreement gives Widewaters 90 days to complete the repairs, but Mayor Don Kinosz said he believes the company has addressed most, if not all, of the outlined issues.

Kinosz said he's pleased the agreement gives city officials permission to inspect the property periodically to ensure the buildings are secure and don't become more of a hazard. He's especially concerned about the risk a fire would pose to nearby residents.

The settlement gives the city the right to inspect the interior annually to ensure the buildings are secure, that no combustibles are stored inside and that there is no change in the condition of potential hazardous materials.

In particular, the city wants reassurance that asbestos inside the buildings doesn't become friable, or reduced to loose particles, that would pose a respiratory risk in a fire or if it somehow became airborne.

As long as all the conditions are met, the city agreed not to require Widewaters to maintain an operational sprinkler or alarm system. Kinosz said national fire codes do not require vacant buildings to have operable fire-suppression systems.

Kinosz said the inspections will give city officials peace of mind that the 190,000-square-foot building remains safe.

“The structure is sound,” Kinosz said. “But it puts the burden on them to keep it sound.”

The settlement approved by council on Monday was signed on Sept. 13 by Joseph R. Scuderi, president of New York-based Widewaters, and Marco J. Marzocchi, Widewaters' general counsel.

Marzocchi, who has acted as the company's spokesman regarding the property, could not be reached for comment late Monday.

In September, Marzocchi said Widewaters had brought the property into compliance: “We are working diligently with city officials to address the code violations. We're looking to be a good corporate citizen.”

Meanwhile, Kinosz said city officials continue to work with Widewaters to market the property.

The Wards building has been vacant since 2001 when the company went out of business; J.C. Penney left the adjacent building when the Pittsburgh Mills mall opened in Frazer in 2005. A bank and discount store, in separate buildings, are the only remaining tenants.

“Hopefully, it will be filled by then (next year's inspection),” Kinosz said. “But I've been saying that for a long time.”

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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