Council Discusses Demolition
Built in 1886, the building was an integral part of the historic streetscape directly across from the city’s main train station. City officials declared it an imminent hazard after bricks fell off a parapet on March 23 and it was torn down two days later. Attempts to reach the owner were unsuccessful. Although a lien will be placed on the property, the city will bear the immediate cost, which will show up as an emergency appropriation in the FY 2011 budget.
City Administrator Bibi Taylor explained the events that led to the demolition, but Councilman William Reid said, “Someone should have been looking at buildings like this in the past so we wouldn’t have to demolish them.”
Reid said the building’s deterioration took a number of years and questioned the role of the Inspections Division, saying the administration should set up a team to study similar buildings.
Councilman Rashid Burney agreed, saying, “Enforcement – early, often and hard – is the answer.”
Burney noted another building in bad shape about half a block west. The façade is boarded up, but the rear is open to the elements.
Water damage over many years was also a factor in the demolition of the 1886 building, as it had no roof and floors had collapsed. It had been marked by the Fire Division some time ago as unsafe to enter. Although it had liens dating back to 1994, Taylor said, there was some thought that redevelopment would take place.
As Plaintalker has reported, former NBA star Jayson Williams promised in the 1990s to redevelop the North Avenue Commercial Historic District, between Watchung and Park avenues, but nothing transpired. In 2006, Landmark Developers agreed to redevelop the district and the Union County Improvement Authority was to oversee the plan.
Councilman Cory Storch asked whether the administration was aware of an abandoned property ordinance passed in 2005 that allowed the city to take property if an owner neglected it despite warnings and timelines for action.
“We have to get the clock running,” he said.
But Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson repeated the notion that someone was going to come in and redevelop the entire tract.
At this point, the main concern is to stabilize walls of adjoining buildings, one of which has a “party wall” that had been structurally connected to the demolished building. Part of the demolition cost will be to shore up both walls.
Council President Annie McWilliams asked why the façade could not be saved, but Remington & Vernick Engineer Wendell Bibbs said it was a question of “competing interests” and who would pay for preserving a façade on private property. Bibbs also noted that due to wear, the façade was essentially just a stack of bricks. This comment was borne out in the demolition, when just the tap of a machine’s claw brought down entire walls.
Reid disagreed, saying “Any façade can be reproduced with modern construction methods.”