Problems continue with former WCVI, joined properties in Connellsville
Editor's note: This is the second of a four-part series reviewing some of the properties that concern officials in the City of Connellsville. Today, a closer look at structurally deficient buildings.
Some structures, built a century ago, have outlived their usefulness and may be lost.
One Connellsville building that now may be nearing its end is the building at 131-139 E. Crawford Ave., which houses the former WCVI Radio station.
According to Tom Currey, Connellsville's zoning and code enforcement officer and health officer, Mayor Greg Lincoln and Councilman Greg Ritch, the structure is a danger to city residents, with the roof and some walls collapsing. The city has ordered Fayette County, listed as the owner, to demolish the structure before mid-August.
The building has been the focus of several attempts at rehabilitation.
The city had gone after a developer from the state of California at one time. Court proceedings would have forced that developer to demolish the structure or would have allowed the city to take his assets to cover the cost of demolition.
But Fayette County, under previous commissioners, had refused to allow the process.
Last year, another attempt at a sale of the building began.
A deed was mailed on Oct. 1, 2013 from Fayette County for the sale of the structure. Shane O'Brien, an Arizona real estate developer, bid on the property, but refused to take possession of the deed when he found out about the building's condition.
“To be honest, I'm grateful for the interest in the building,” Ritch said at the time.
Ritch had said he hoped the situation with the building does not become drawn out, adding the chances of someone being hurt by falling debris or worse will increase as time goes on.
Later, Al Ambrosini, county commission chairman, said Fayette will do all it can to expedite the sale to local businesswoman Jenna Rouse if she bids on the structure.
Rouse said she thought the city and county were not interested in her acquiring the building.
“I was told that they didn't have time to waste and they met with a county commissioner twice that specific week,” wrote Rouse in an email. “I understood they were going ahead with whatever their ‘Plan B' was.”
Back on for-sale list
Ambrosini said the building was back on the for-sale list in January. A bid was received on June 3 in the Fayette County Tax Claim Office from Leighton Simpson of Pompton Lakes, N.J.
Ambrosini said he would like to speak to Simpson to determine what he has in mind for the property. He added it is in the best interests of the county and city to find a buyer who will rehabilitate the structure.
Simpson said that is what he wants to do.
According to Simpson, he has purchased and rehabilitated structures in Detroit, including one that was probably in worse shape.
“If I would have pulled one brick out, it would have come down,” he said.
The WCVI building is in bad shape. High winds picked up shingles from the old roof and dropped them on the street on April 29, producing “shingle dandruff.”
Joe Orszulak, owner of Kathryn's Jewelry, across South Carnegie Avenue and down the hill from the building, said he attempted to purchase the structure when his store was on the street level in the WCVI building. The owner at that time refused to sell.
Now, there may not be time for Simpson to take possession of the building before action must be taken. Simpson will have approximately 100 days to begin work.
Ritch said council authorized an order be sent the county seeking action in the next 30 days. The letter was sent to all three commissioners and the county clerk. The city also cited commissioners Ambrosini, Vince Zapotosky and Angela Zimmerlink, charging them with property maintenance code violations. A hearing on the charges was set for 9:30 a.m. Aug. 26 before District Judge Ronald J. Haggerty Jr. in Connellsville.
Save the building
Many people in Connellsville believe the building is historical and should be saved.
“We get these people that scream and yell about the historic value of these properties,” Currey said. “They're pretty and there's history in Connellsville. Unfortunately, who's paying to maintain it? Nobody.
“What group is putting together money to save the building, to keep from tearing it down? Nobody. All they're doing is screaming and yelling, he continued. “As sad as it is, as terrible as it is, we might lose the WCVI building.
“I can only look out for the public safety. I'm sorry. I can't just let a building rot in this town, collapse in this town, no matter how historic it might be, if nobody's going to step up and do something. That's always the dilemma.”
Another problem that was turning into a battle between two building owners are neighboring properties along South Pittsburgh Street.
A dilapidated structure at 115-117 S. Pittsburgh St., owned by Rodney Allen, has a roof that partially collapsed. City officials have said Allen must demolish the building. However, Allen was not able to comply because a power line to the building next to his, owned by Peter Jandura, was attached to his. That power line was moved the week of July 7.
“I've been dealing with this problem for 12 years,” said Jandura, of being located next to a building that is falling apart. “The building (belonging to Rodney Allen) is going to be completely down, I've been assured by Tom Currey. Only one last problem … my building.”
Jandura said he has spent $20,000 rewiring his own building.
Jandura added he is in debt for $18,000 now.
“I'm in debt up to my eyeballs,” he said.
Jandura said there is a common wall between his building and Allen's. He was afraid that, when Allen takes down his building, he will destroy Jandura's wall.
However, Jandura brought in a structural engineer who told him the steel holding up the common wall is sound.
Jandura's building was constructed before 1915, in between Allen's building and the Odd Fellows Hall. The builders used the walls of the structures on either side without building separate walls.
Demolition of the Allen building could involve tearing down the wall that makes up part of Jandura's building. Some agreement must be worked out between the two property owners.
According to Currey, Jandura also must deal with the common wall between his property and the Odd Fellows building on the other side. He said no such plans to allow common walls would be approved today.
Currey said Allen's building is not presently a danger to anyone passing by. The city has ordered Allen to apply for demolition permits from the city and county. As of July 29, no applications had been made.
Allen has another problem to face before the building can come down. He must clear the demolition with the state Department of Environmental Resources. DEP must be furnished with proof there is no asbestos in the building or that the asbestos has been removed. At that point, Fayette County can then issue a demolition permit.
Wednesday: New life breathed into historic structures.
Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-626-3538.
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