- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Complaining about safety concerns and a potential restaurant closure, Monessen residents implored city council Monday to address crumbling structures in the business district.

And although council members pledged action and preached patience, the words weren’t enough for some.

Bernie Fertall, owner of The Pasta Shoppe on Donner Avenue, said his business might be forced to close because the building next door — the former Malec’s Custom Cabinetry — is slowly collapsing.

Fertall said he’s been repeatedly denied insurance.

“We’re looking at the end of an era,” Fertall said of the possible August closure. “One more winter, and it’s going to totally come down. … Either way, I can’t operate without insurance.”

Capt. Sue Thwaite, of The Salvation Army’s Mon Valley Citadel, scolded council about the crumbling brick building next to her headquarters.

It is a former gas station and auto repair garage at the intersection of Third Street and Schoonmaker Avenue. Thwaite has repeatedly questioned council about progress in citing the owner for code violations.

An inspection by the city engineering firm WEC in August noted unsupported exterior walls, falling debris and potential public hazards.

At Thwaite’s request, the city contacted the DEP about underground tanks alleged to be on the property.

“Our city is in crisis. This has been going on for years and years, and we’ve got to start taking care of our community,” Thwaite said.

“I hear the cries from the community, but I don’t hear the plan coming from city leaders. We need your help. We need to be able to leave here feeling as though we’re being helped by the people we elected to office.”

However, Councilman Josh Retos noted the city does not own — or control — the buildings. The Malec’s building is owned by the Monessen Redevelopment Authority.

The former auto repair building is privately owned and the subject of pending litigation, city Solicitor Gary Matta said.

“We have sent another letter requesting the hearing be expedited, and we’re waiting for a hearing date in front of Judge (Joseph) Dalfonso,” Matta said.

“I can’t expedite it any more. There was an agreement between the former code enforcement officer and (the owner) to get this resolved, and it fell through. So now, the process has restarted.”

Thwaite, who conducts a day camp for 50 children, said falling bricks and other concerns have forced her to move the campers out of harm’s way. She also noted falling debris on the sidewalks, which is forcing pedestrians — many in wheelchairs — to use Third Street to pass.

“Some of my frustration is that you folks wasted money on a city (engineer) and nothing was done in over a year,” Thwaite said.

“We’re one of the only social service agencies in town that people have access to. When we can’t help someone, we have to refer them to Greensburg or Washington. … If there’s damage to our building, we won’t be able to be here.”

Councilman John Nestor interjected.

“With the ideology we have here on council, we have arguments over about what buildings should be torn down in Monessen,” Nestor said.

“Some factions want to tear down the old Health Mart building. Some want to tear down the building next to (the Pasta Shoppe) and keep business flourishing.”

Councilwomen Patty Bukowski and Lucille D’Alfonso claimed they have unsuccessfully lobbied for action on the former Malec’s building.

Mayor Lou Mavrakis said he will be among a contingent of elected officials, along with U.S. Rep. Bill Schuster, R-Hollidaysburg, on a blight tour of the Mid-Mon Valley next month.

“The only way we’re going to get rid of the blight is, there’s going to have to be an influx of money from the federal government,” Mavrakis said.

“Nobody is going to come in here and develop downtown the way it is.”

Fertall and Thwaite also complained about the pigeon population — and subsequent bird droppings — in the business district. They claimed that many of the birds roost in the former Health Mart building.

In a show of emotion, Ron Mozer who owns Crystalline Technologies, assailed council, accusing its members of inaction and apathy.

“There have been some very challenging tasks that have been placed upon you, and I would really like to see you people grab a hold of these tasks and run with them,” Mozer said.

“You are responsible for the community. You are our employees. And we’re all asking you to … find ways around things and make it happen. On behalf of the Pasta Shoppe, on behalf of the Salvation Army, I am part of that community, too, now,” said Mozer, who recently purchased the former Polish Club and is moving his operation there.

“I look out my parking lot and what do I see across the street? A dilapidated building. What do I see over towards the Salvation Army? I see wheelchairs in the middle of the road from the high rise because there’s no sidewalk to (travel) on. I promise you, if a car comes around the corner, a wheelchair isn’t going to get out of the way.”

Mozer criticized council for not receiving a plan or a timetable for the sale of the former City Hall, purchased by former Councilman Dr. Martin Dudas last month for approximately $16,000. Mozer bid $12,000 for the building.

Bukowski said such mandates were not part of the initial bid.

She and D’Alfonso said Dudas has been out of town and will submit the information once he returns.

Council will re-advertise for bids this week on two other city-owned properties: the Municipal Complex and the Eastgate 11 building that formerly housed Castle Blood and Mozer’s business.

Mavrakis has said he has negotiated a deal to sell both buildings. Matta said sealed bids for the properties will be opened Aug. 10.

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected] or 724-684-2635.


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