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Harrisburg mayor speeds up hearing on wall collapse; tire shop owner seeks meeting with governor

HARRISBURG—Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse put the kibosh on a delayed hearing regarding The McFarland apartments’ responsibilities following a wall collapse.

The attorney representing the property had asked for a continuance because the next hearing date, Oct. 20, fell on a Jewish holiday and his client is an Orthodox Jew. Officials in the city’s codes office then agreed to push the hearing to Dec. 15, which would be more than seven months after the collapse.

But when Papenfuse learned of the delay on Tuesday, he insisted that the meeting of the Building and Housing Code Board of Appeals hearing occur earlier.

The meeting is now set for Oct. 27, even though the attorney for The McFarland, Adam Klein, says he has a conflict that day.

“Obviously this is very disappointing,” he said. “This certainly shouldn’t be the way to do business.”

Klein said he was discouraged because he had already made his conflict known about the Oct. 27 date and was willing to try to find another mutually-acceptable date. But after PennLive published a story about the delay this week, the city then unilaterally set the meeting for Oct. 27.

“What annoys me is I offered in September to come up with a different date other than the third Thursday of the month,” Klein said. “But they said they didn’t want to have to pay to advertise a new meeting date.”

The appeals board typically publishes its meeting dates once at the beginning of the year and does not deviate from that schedule to save on advertising costs. But the city will pay the additional cost to place an ad this Sunday to advertise the Oct. 27 special hearing, city officials said.

At the hearing, the appeals board will consider the legitimacy of a condemnation order issued by the city in late June that included several provisions for The McFarland to start cleaning up at the site of the collapse.

The sped-up hearing, however, isn’t going to speed up cleanup, Klein said. Whichever way the board rules on the condemnation order, the loser will likely appeal to the Common Pleas Court, he said.

The real determining factor to start cleanup, Klein said, is a decision by his client’s insurance carrier.

“We filed an insurance claim,” Klein said. “We’re waiting for a decision on coverage, which is what anyone in similar circumstances would do. We’d like to get this fixed too. It’s not doing us any good to let it drag on.”
PennDOT, meanwhile, isn’t lifting a finger, Klein noted, even though his client thinks PennDOT’s work on the wall last year triggered the collapse. PennDOT, for its part, denies any liability.

Klein said the city is unfairly blaming the whole collapse on The McFarland apartments.

“No one knows who owns the wall,” Klein said. “No one knows exactly why it collapsed.”

Either way, debris from the May 5 collapse crushed the warehouse of a tire shop below. The owner last week closed his business and laid off 12 employees because of what he considered unsafe conditions with the wall that has remained exposed for five months.

Howard Henry, owner of Howard Tire and Auto, pleaded for the governor to intervene to help save his business. The governor said in a statement that his office would reach out Henry.

An office aide called Henry Wednesday night and offered a meeting with staffers. But the aide refused to grant a meeting with the governor. That left Henry unsatisfied.

“I want to hear it from him personally that he takes their (PennDOT’s) involvement seriously and will call for an independent investigation of what took place with PennDOT and the collapse of the wall,” Henry said. “It’s time to begin to ask the hard questions and demand honest answers. Enough with damage control.”

The state, however, does not have a direct role in the matter, said Jeffery Sheridan, the governor’s spokesman.

“We are more than willing to see if there is anything we can do to help in this matter because we understand Mr. Henry’s frustration,” he said.

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