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Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Where's COA For Collapsed Easton Building?

323 Northampton, latest design
Yesterday, I told you about the building collapse last week at 323 Northampton Street in Easton. The good news is that nobody was hurt, which is something of a miracle because one woman had walked by just before the wall came crashing down. But the bad news is that the developer and owner of this building may have been winking at Easton's code enforcement laws, particularly the requirement that no work be started without something called a "Certificate of Appropriateness."

This building, a former Dollar Store once known as the Semple Building, is currently owned by Luan of Kosovo, LLC. It was purchased from the Cusano family in December 2014, for $337,000.  Papers filed with the Department of State list company headquarters as the River Grille, which is owned by Mick Gjevukaj. He is also the owner of another Easton eatery called Ocean 235.  The Deed on record for 323 Northampton directs that all tax notices be sent to 5 Deer Run Road in Pittston, N.J., which is owned by Faruk Gjevukaj.

We know from a news account in October 2015 that the old Dollar Store was being converted into yet another downtown restaurant that one could hope would match the success at River Grille and Ocean.

This is where things get strange.

Like many cities, Easton has a Historic District, and this property is in it. Under Easton's Historic Preservation Ordinance,
The Code Administrator shall not issue a building permit(s) for any erection, alteration, reconstruction, repair, restoration or demolition of all or part of any building in the district until Easton City Council has issued a certificate of appropriateness (COA). If the Code Administrator or his or her representative issues a building permit(s) without a COA due to an administrative or clerical error, said building permit(s) shall be voided
Thus, any of the work done at 323 Northampton St, whether it is tearing down a facade or gutting a building, requires a COA.

In October of last year, when Gjevukaj first began demolition work on this site, did he have a COA?

That concern was expressed at the Easton Facebook page yesterday. Bill Carr states, "[T]here was never a C of A issued for this project. ... Any external demolition from the outset required approval from the Historic District Commission in the form of a Certificate of Appropriateness and this never happened. No demolition should have been authorized or given a permit without HDC approval."

But Easton Mayor Sal Panto disputes this contention. "They [the owners] did a great job on Ocean and RiverGrill. They are investing millions in our city and creating jobs. The inspections have and will take place but we don't have an inspector on site all day. And as far as taking off the ugly 50's facade however can they tell what they have? The HDC has approved their plans and their C of A."

Who is right?

COAs must be approved by City Council before any work is started. So if City Council did approve one for 323 Northampton, as Panto claims, this could be confirmed by reviewing Council minutes. I reviewed the Council minutes of every meeting in 2015 - twice - and am unable to locate any COA. Perhaps I missed it. Perhaps Panto misspoke.

According to Panto, "The city filed two citations today against the owners and the contractor. But that doesn't solve any of the problems of the past.  It only charges them with some fines for their actions. The important thing to remember is that they are acting responsibly to stabilize and then demo the affected area and continue with the project as presented to the historic district commission. So this is my final comment on [Facebook] but the next time people call city hall and don't get an answer or an answer they like all they have to do is call me. I am totally accessible.".

If they are acting responsibly, why the citations? If they are acting responsibly, why the hell did the building collapse? Was the City using unqualified workers?

Updated 2:30 am: For the second time, an Express Times article about this collapse calls it storm damage. While there is little doubt that Wednesday's downpour might be the immediate cause, poor workmanship might be the underlying reason. The contractor doing this demolition has been identified as Tamco Construction, which has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.

Updated 10:20 am: An Express Times news account indicates that the two citations referred to above have been lodged against owner Luan of Kosova, identified above, and contractor Bee Green Homes. This is not the contractor previously identified.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is quite disturbing.

Anonymous said...

What difference does it make

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
There is a very nice building near jordan park that has been boarded up for years¿!)$ It is on a land parcel that is part of this very same conglomerants hostel take over engineered as a whole¿!)$ One said building now is very close to to a road right a way set back standirts, the boarded up historic building has the roof hatch opened and laying on the roof seen from 7th st¿!)$ This is just yet another engineered destructional type of the local yocals circus Acts¿!)$ This is most deffinately and insurable water damage peril under cover under colur of local developmental blight to bright white boxes built employeed by subdividable substandirt circus Acts of team elder abuse of the soul sale sector¿!)$ RePete as a state Representational tool implimentation of the negation¿!)$

I am very sure this is one of many rentable homelessness hovels that has been granted a CO with the same wink wink to code officials in allentown extrordinair¿!)$

redd for Republican
patent pending

Anonymous said...

Be careful Bernie, Panto's panties are getting bunched up.

Anonymous said...

The wind blew the building down.

Anonymous said...

Remember---- the cover up always causes more damage than the original episode.
Hold on to your a hat, stormy weather is coming to city hall.

Anonymous said...

According to the latest article from LVL, the total amount of fines is a whopping $71!

Dennis R. Lieb said...

Panto's comments that...

"They [the owners] did a great job on Ocean and RiverGrill...are investing millions...and creating jobs..."

And that...

"we don't have an inspector on site all day. And as far as taking off the ugly 50's facade however can they tell what they have? The HDC approved their plans and their C of A."

...are once again irrelevant and avoiding the point. The reputation of the developers or what they have done for Easton is not at question; stop redirecting the issue. The reasons for the collapse and what the city did or didn't do to exacerbate it is the issue.

And there are many ways to deal with unknown facade issues that can be handled within the legal framework of the COA process. Whether that happened is not known to me but timing of any awarded COA - if it did take place - is key...was it before or after demolition? Panto won't say.

Again, the mayor says...

"The important thing to remember is that they are acting responsibly to stabilize and then demo the affected area..." and...So this is my final comment on [Facebook] but the next time people call city hall and don't get an answer or an answer they like all they have to do is call me. I am totally accessible."

Question: when did the mayor become the developer's PR manager? Why is he speaking for them instead of for the city? It isn't his job to make them either look good or look bad. And as for the idea that he is accessible to the public, thats a joke. I've contacting him directly in a number of cases and had no response. Same with the code office and a number of his department heads. He has also taken the sensitive subject of private communications between me and city hall agencies and broadcast them via email chains to dozens of people, which is a direct violation of my privacy and of the same RTK laws he so vigorously defends in his own case.

In a message to him at his official email address on July 26, 2011 related to an incident that occurred at a rental property in the 600 block of Northampton Street I asked for help in sorting out the difficulties of managing that block. This was in my official capacity as West Ward Neighborhood Partnership's Project Director. I was hit by a large foreign object deliberately thrown out of a third floor window and had to make a police report. Nothing was done about it. I related the incident in detail to Panto and asked what he was going to do about it. He never answered.

The following week I had a meeting with colleagues in his conference room (he wasn't present) to discuss blighted property and stopped in his secretary's office to inform her that he hadn't responded and that I was explicitly demanding a response on the issue in question. Again no response. In the weeks following this incident the person that assaulted me was arrested for stabbing her boyfriend and another person in the same building was arrested for trying to buy a gun illegally in Palmer Township. These issues mean nothing to Panto because they are "over the hill" on the "bad side" of town in the West Ward. All we're good for is acting as the city's poverty project to collect grant money and as lab rats for RDA's dumb-ass projects.

I know I am not alone in my contempt for the mayor. But if we are going to rid ourselves of him any time soon many more of you will have to come forward and put your names on the record. I can be reached easily anytime and look forward to hearing from like-minded citizens ready to change Easton for the better.

DRL

Charlie Sch said...

Some historic district ordinances allow a City staffer to approve a COA for certain less substantial changes. I don't know about Easton's.

Anonymous said...

What the fuck is goin' on down there?

Anonymous said...

Now the Easton Public Market is delaying it's grand opening.

Anonymous said...

I guess if you know the right people you can get away with anything.

Anonymous said...

Something fishy is stinking up the Easton Code Office

There is something going on that is kind of stinky at the Easton Codes Office, other than a corrupt code enforcement director. With the armory building, especially. It is a mess. Honestly, its just another property that is shown favoritism in the city. Code harasses some people and lets the big things go ignored. Here is an article about it:

http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/easton/index.ssf/2014/10/easton_armory_building_holds_p.html

The article is from 2014 and quotes Mayor Panto-- "The former Easton armory building at Seventh and Northampton streets lay vacant for more than 20 years before Easton residents Peter and Odil Koorie started working on it, according to Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr." The Koories bought it in 2012 for 50k and, according to the article, "they have steadily worked to bring the building up to code although it's unclear what purpose the building will ultimately serve." Steadily? They can just take their time? The article continues: "The mayor said the Koories have worked well with the city. New windows are in and work is underway to replace a roof beam and put on a new roof. Panto expects the work to wrap up in late October or early November. Koorie said he wants to get as much work completed as he can before the cold sets in."

Why does this building get to take its time to "get up to code," when only certain people are harassed by code? It's no different than the lack of code taking action on certain properties (like the one that just collapsed) just because of who owns them. For the armory, maybe its this: the armory is owned by the "Koorie" family in Easton, who, not surprisingly, have Sharbel Koorie sitting high and dry as a "Code Compliance Officer & Mechanical Inspector" in the city codes officer, working under the-esteemed Stephen Nowroski. Take a quick look at property records, this Koorie family owns a bunch of properties that are sitting vacant and chipping away, paint included. They have daddys house or place that sells food down the street, where Panto and Nowroski eat all the time. Funny cause daddys place restaurant actually catered Panto's inaugural party at the grand eastonian a few months back... I wonder if that was reported on his finance reports, which seems to be missing from any campaign finance reports...

Why does this building get special treatment and can take its time "getting to code." Its not even up to code yet and it was purchased in 2012 and in 2014 Panto said they are bringing it to code. It's 2016 now. Where are the citations? Are they being cited for code violations? The windows that Panto refers to as changed do not even fit the window frames that they are in. I wonder if they even had permits to change the windows or permits to change beam and the roof? The building is an eyesore, it is dirty, not protected, has all kinds of trash in its parking lot, is pretty much open for anyone to walk into, has glass falling from the windows that were not replaced. It's a mess and is apparently used to store alcohol, which isn't even authorized.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I cannot allow this anonymous personal attack on Sharbel and Peter Koorie go by without a response. Panto and Easton police eat there, but so do I. It is an excellent Middle Eastern restaurant. I happen to know for a fact that, while Panto was reducing permit fees for Mulligan's Cheeburger, Koorie got no breaks st all. Sharbel is a hardworking city employee and his brother is doing an excellent job as an accountant at Gracedale. When you start getting personal like this, and can't even ID yourself, that tells me what to think of the rest of your complaints. There are plenty of good people in Easton who play by the rules, and one of MY rules is that you identify yourself when you personally attack someone. I allow attacks against elected officials, and will allow one personal attack against the Koories bc they are public employees. But no more. As for the Armory, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using it for storage. If it could store weapons, ir could store a few bottles of Bud.

You are not demonstrating favoritism here. You are just showing petty behavior. And you must know my comment policy.

Anonymous said...

Dennis Lieb:

These Panto quotes, the first being...

"They [the owners] did a great job on Ocean and River Grill...are investing millions...and creating jobs..."

And then this one...

"we don't have an inspector on site all day. And as far as taking off the ugly 50's facade however can they tell what they have? The HDC approved their plans and their C of A."

...are once again irrelevant and avoiding the point. The reputation of the developers or what they have done for Easton is not in question; stop redirecting the issue. The reasons for the facade collapse and any antecedent steps the city may or may not have taken to exacerbate it is the issue.

And there are ways to deal with unknown facade conditions during design review (and before demolition) that can be handled within the legal framework of the COA process. As a permitted use in the Downtown Character District this project did not require approval of the Planning Commission, where the possibility of discussing the facade issue might have come up before HDC got involved. Whether that happened at HDC is not known to me but the timing of any supposedly awarded COA - if it did take place - is key...was it before or after demolition? Panto side-steps that detail in his comments.

Again, from the the mayor's lips ...

"The important thing to remember is that they are acting responsibly to stabilize and then demo the affected area..."

and...

"So this is my final comment on [Facebook] but the next time people call city hall and don't get an answer or an answer they like all they have to do is call me. I am totally accessible."

I doubt there will ever truly be a "final comment" from the mayor on Facebook but here is the question: when did the mayor become the developer's press secretary? Why is he speaking for them instead of for the city? It isn't his job to make them either look bad or look good. And as for the idea that he is accessible to the public, thats a joke. I've contacting him directly on numerous occasions and had no response. Same with the code office and a number of his department heads. He has also taken liberties with sensitive subject matter in private communications between me and city hall agencies and broadcast that information via email chains to dozens of people, which is a direct violation of my privacy and of the same RTK laws he so vigorously defends in his own case.

Part 1

Anonymous said...

Dennis Lieb

Part 2

In a message to him at his official email address on July 26, 2011 regarding an incident that occurred in the 600 block of Northampton Street I asked for his help in sorting out the difficulties of managing that troublesome block. This was in my official capacity as West Ward Neighborhood Partnership's Project Director. I was hit by a large foreign object deliberately thrown out of a third floor window and had to make a police report. Nothing was done about it. I related the incident in detail to Panto in an email and asked if he was willing to work together on a solution. He never responded.

The following week I had a meeting with some colleagues in his conference room to discuss blighted property policy (he wasn't present). I stopped in at his secretary's office to inform her that he had as yet not responded and that I was now explicitly demanding a response on the issue in question. And again, nothing. In a WWNP Steering Committee meeting later that week in which I gave a detailed project report on the physical status of the 600 block, he ran out of the room the second the meeting adjourned without comment.

In the days following this incident the person that assaulted me was arrested for attempting to stab her boyfriend, while another tenant in the same building was arrested in Palmer Township for trying to buy a gun without disclosing his past mental health problems. These issues mean nothing to Panto because they are "over the hill", on the "bad side" of town in the West Ward. All we're good for is acting as the city's poverty project to collect grant money and as lab rats for RDA's dumb-ass projects.

I know I am not alone in my contempt for the mayor. But if we are going to rid ourselves of him any time soon many more of you will have to come forward with your own stories and put your own names on the record. I can be reached easily anytime and look forward to hearing from like-minded citizens ready to change Easton for the better.

Anonymous said...

Imagine if someone had been killed. How difficult is it to design a code department with caring and knowledgeable employees that do their jobs. This department's database should be public, online, available for taxpayers to read and review. Citizens of Easton need to insist this is done.

Anonymous said...

wow, first Allentown, then Bethlehem and now Easton. one common factor persists.. all owned and operated by democrats for decades. this is shocking as water is wet.
trust me, more to follow on all three cities and the scams.