Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Collapsing? Condemned? Codes? Conduct?

At Monday night's meeting of the whole, Columbia Borough Council once again discussed safety concerns about the property at 208-210 Locust Street, which was recently thought to be in danger of collapse. Norm Meiskey, acting borough manager, said the building's front wall was reinforced, and barricades have been installed at the front of the building. "At present, the structural integrity was enhanced under the guidance of the borough's registered professional structural engineer," Meiskey said, and added that if the initial remediation had not been done, the facade probably would have come down.  Meiskey also said the borough had the barricades erected, because the owner did not comply with the requirements to do so by the deadline of June 26. Three separate charges have now been filed against owner Sam Bigler.  In addition, council said that any charges for the borough engineer will be passed on to property owner.

According to Meiskey, a registered professional engineer has designed a remediation plan for a bulging wall. Meiskey said the plan and the permit are in the hands of the building's owner.

"We're waiting for the structural engineer that was hired to give us the date in which it is to be complete," Meiskey said. "At this point in time, we do not have the schedule from him."

Several councillors remarked about the lack of urgency shown by Sam Bigler and asked when the borough could step in and take whatever action deemed necessary.  Meiskey said the borough can't demolish the building unless there is an imminent danger declared by the borough's engineer.

Renee Sears told council that the barricade at the front of the building crosses over onto a property owned by Daisy and Tony Pagan, owners of Perfect Settings at Second and Locust Streets.  She expressed concern about fire if people are trapped in an enclosed courtyard at the rear of the property.

"You've got people that could be dying if anything tragic happened there," Sears said. "I don't even know why anybody would want to save that building." Sears said that there are no beams in the basement of 208-210 Locust, because they were taken out, removing support from the building.  She cited the negative effect on the Pagans' business and said people are hesitant to hold functions at the business due to the condition of the neighboring property. Sears also cited an incident in which a code officer responded with obscenities to business owner Tony Pagan when Pagan questioned him about access to his property.

Columbia Borough Fire Chief Scott Ryno told council that Bigler did not respond with any sense of urgency when initially informed about the building's condition.  "The owner did absolutely nothing," Ryno said, adding that Bigler "outright refused" to respond and decided to wait several days to address issues with the building, even after being informed that the building was in danger of collapse. At the urging of council, Ryno said he would meet with Daisy Pagan on Tuesday to discuss access to the courtyard at her property.

Ryno said that another Bigler property, an occupied apartment building at 421 Walnut Street, rear, (also designated as 423 Avenue G) also had significant issues. He said a wall is bowed out, and a section of roof is collapsing. Ryno said that after he reported the building's condition to the codes department, someone was seen patching the roof with tar on a recent Sunday afternoon. Ryno said he found this to be unacceptable, because the building needs a new roof, not just a patch job. Meiskey said an evacuation order had originally been issued for the property but was deemed to be unnecessary after a structural engineer found that a new substructure had been installed inside the building.  Meiskey said additional remediation is still needed at the building.

A tenant of the building told council that a code enforcement officer had recently crossed out the date for the second time on a posted notice and added a note that the building is habitable to live in until further notice.  Meiskey said, "To my knowledge it was to be the end of the year." The tenant said not all permits were changed.  She stated that three different dates appear on permits on four doors leading to the building's five apartments. The tenant also said she was informed that parts of the east and west walls need to be replaced. She also said the roof was repaired using second hand materials on a Sunday of a holiday weekend.

Here is the notice referenced in this article, showing the changed dates.

The tenant stated that the code officer originally showed up at the building in a hoodie sweatshirt with no tags or other identification. "How is that proper as an employee of the borough?" she asked.

She also alleged that after the building had been condemned, the officer called her cellphone and apologized and said "I feel bad about this. Let me take you out to dinner and make it up to you."
She said she told him she did not think that was appropriate, but he allegedly said, "At least let me buy you a cup of coffee."

She said she saw the officer on Monday and ran back into her apartment, because she doesn't feel safe with him.  Council sat in stunned silence before adjourning to an executive session.

Photos of 208-210 Locust Street:

Photos provided by Daisy Pagan


Anonymous said...

Let the building as is, its not hurting anyone! If someone gets killed then sue!!

Anonymous said...

Every meeting code department is a hot topic, taking up lots of time. Clean house, time for a new crew.

Anonymous said...

NO, do not wait until someone is injured or killed. Sue who?? It's obvious Bigler doesn't give a crap, do you really think he will pay, will his insurance will pay??? Does suing repair the injured and bring back the dead? If multiple people are injured or killed in a collapse, this borough won't have enough money to cover that kind of damage.

Anonymous said...

You could tell there were several council members at the end of their rope with the codes department. The real question is will they take action or just continue to be annoyed? Sort of like they say they are fed up with Bigler yet they continue to allow him to drag his feet with needed repairs all over town. And the comments about the code officer's inappropriate actions were just horrible. It those things did happen, he needs to be terminated immediately.

Anonymous said...

the Boro's ordinances are NOT inconsistant....it's the people administering the ordinances that are inconsistant.
a lil of that good ole boy system. i agree time to clean house. the Boro has ALL they need in ref to ordinances, BUT they MUST use them. Anything dealing with Bigler MUST have compliance dates. they know how he operates. this has been going on for years and years. Boro will spend thousands and thousands of taxpayer dollars on this 1 property. again.

Anonymous said...

Bigler needs to be run out of town the sooner the better and we need a whole new codes department.

Anonymous said...

I agree, he should be terminated asap! But while they are at it, JH needs to go too for putting us in potentially litigious situations time and time again! But they won't fire him because he is a Columbia Boy and a HT parishioner!

Anonymous said...

you know i have to agree with the depends on who you are and good ole boys club code dept system. just take a look at the fire property on n 3rd st....historic district, replaced original windows with VINYL. and look at bottom of locust st. replaced windows with plywood, painted...and VINYL windows. look st the disgusting property (that COULD be aweosme and amazing) at 2nd & cherry st. its SO overgrown it has to be a safety issue. rundown too. its a rental of course. then look at some of the rentals that are a CONSTANT problem with trash, rubbish, unsightly. wth happened to "3 strikes your out????????" did the mayor throw it out. make a valid complaint and NOTHING happens or changes.