North Franklin investigating house demolition

June 19, 2013
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This house at 16 Mill St. in North Franklin Township was torn down by the municipality without proper notification, the property owner claims.
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Scott Bernett

North Franklin Township’s newly hired solicitor’s first order of business will be to investigate a complaint the municipality demolished a house without notifying its owner.

Washington attorney Thomas Lonich will look into the claim from local developer Scott Bernett a rental property he was remodeling at 16 Mill St. was demolished in March without his knowledge under a blight removal program administrated by the Washington County Redevelopment Authority, said Alex Migyanko, a newly appointed North Franklin supervisor.

“I’ve never had a car stolen, but I think I’d rather have a car stolen than have a house taken,” Bernett said before Wednesday’s supervisors’ meeting.

“It’s just wrong. It just shocked me when this happened.”

Bernett said he owns a lot of rental property in the area and specializes in restoring buildings, including the former Duane Hotel on South Main Street in Washington.

He said he discovered the house in which he invested $62,000 partially demolished March 28, three days after a contractor had started tearing it down. He purchased the condemned house in 2007, and said he has since installed new electrical service there, as well as flooring and a new roof on the structure.

The authority twice advertised in January in legal notices in the Observer-Reporter it was seeking bids for North Franklin demolition projects without listing the addresses.

William McGowen, redevelopment authority executive director, said it’s up to the municipality to post the property, notify the owner of the condemnation and get a release.

Migyanko said the township did send Bernett a certified letter notifying him about the condemnation. He said the township will make public its file on the case, and it might take two days to pull it together.

Bernett said he didn’t want to sue the township, that he’d rather work things out with the supervisors.

Migyanko said Lonich will be asked to contact former solicitor Dennis Makel about retrieving that attorney’s file on the matter and determine if the complaint needs to be turned over to the township’s insurance carrier.

He said the township has been dealing with organizational issues since the former supervising chairman resigned and the business manager was fired earlier this year. Meanwhile, Makel’s position was opened up at last month’s meeting after Migyanko took office.

Lonich was hired Wednesday at a fee of $300 a month and $100 an hour for additional township work.

In other business, the board hired Lori Tennant as township manager and code enforcement officer at a rate of $22.50 an hour.

Staff writer Barbara Miller contributed to this report.

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

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