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Plum councilman responds to fire department lawsuit

| Wednesday, July 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Plum Councilman Keith Nowalk doesn't dispute that he defaulted on his lease with the Holiday Park Volunteer Fire Department.

Nowalk, though, late last week said he disagrees with other points of a lawsuit filed against him by the fire department.

The Holiday Park Volunteer Fire Department in May sued Nowalk, 49, a developer, seeking $196,536 for what it contends is his failure to pay rent on a building owned by and next door to the fire department on Route 286 in Plum.

The amount includes $179,180 in accelerated rent through December 2019.

Nowalk's business, The Plum Daily Grind, a tenant in 2,350-square-feet of space for about three years, was a coffee house that sold doughnuts, hoagies and pizza among other food items.

Nowalk, a Republican borough councilman who this November is seeking re-election to a four-year term, at the end of April closed the Plum Daily Grind after he said he wasn't able to pay the rent — about $2,800 a month for the first four months of the year.

The fire department sent Nowalk, a member of council's finance committee, a lease termination letter dated April 16, fire department President Robin Schuster has said.

Nowalk had signed a 10-year lease with the fire company that expired in December 2019.

“I never thought I would be out of there,” Nowalk said. “I wanted to buy the building.”

Hilary Taylor, the fire department's attorney, said the fire department contends Nowalk auctioned items from the Plum Daily Grind that were “fixtures” and under state law were to “remain on the property.”

Taylor said Nowalk removed items including an exhaust fan that was attached to the building “causing large holes on the side of the building.”

Nowalk said he and the fire department agreed on the items he could auction.

Nowalk said he was permitted to sell the hood from the exhaust fan but not the vent that was on the exterior of the building.

“I tried to tell them when I removed it that the vent was attached to the hood,” Nowalk said.

The item, including all pieces, was auctioned, Nowalk said.

“We have to agree to disagree,” Taylor said about the items the fire department contends were to remain with the building.

The complaint also alleges that Nowalk in the course of moving his business out of the space “caused significant damage to the premises.”

Nowalk contends he, with a contractor, planned to go into the building on May 1 — a day after the auction — to make repairs to the building.

“The auctioneer guaranteed that we had to put the building back the way it was,” Nowalk said.

But Nowalk found the locks had been changed.

Taylor said changing the locks was something “any responsible landlord would do” after a tenant leaves.

Taylor said she is not aware of any agreement with Nowalk or a contractor to do work on the building after April 30.

The attorney said in addition to changing the locks, the fire department secured the building, boarded up the holes and plans to get an estimate for the damages to the building.

Taylor said the department might file a separate action against Nowalk for the damages.

Nowalk also said he was working to pay back the fire department $60,000 loaned to him for electrical and plumbing work on the building before the business opened.

Nowalk said he and contractors hired by him performed the renovations.

He said that $500 of the monthly rent went toward paying back the fire department.

Nowalk estimates he paid back about $18,000 to the fire department for the work.

He said he spent another $250,000 to renovate the building.

Nowalk said his attorney plans to file an answer to the complaint.

“I lost everything over this venture,” Nowalk said.

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400 ext. 8753 or kzapf@tribweb.com.

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