Little progress in razing condemned Washington building

August 9, 2013
Washington firemen remove a wooden window frame that was ready to fall onto North Main Street earlier this year. Slate, shingles and other debris also fell onto the sidewalk from the top of the condemned building at 132 North Main. - Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter Order a Print

The dilapidated building on North Main Street condemned by Washington officials in June won’t be torn down for months while City Council figures out who should pay to demolish it.

Council Thursday night unanimously voted to solicit bids for the demolition, although officials are still unsure if they should turn the job over to Washington County Redevelopment Authority, which might be more flexible initiating the process.

Debris began falling from the building at 132-134 N. Main St. on June 17, prompting firefighters to climb an aerial truck ladder in order to remove unstable portions of the building’s facade. Mayor Brenda Davis immediately authorized an emergency demolition of the property and council backed up her action last month with its own declaration.

“We need to figure out if we want to spend our money to knock it down, or go through the redevelopment authority,” Davis said, adding that decision will be made late next week. “It’s a more tedious process, but they have (more money) to demolish it.”

City officials expect it to cost more than $40,000 to raze the building. The entire process is expected to take months as the city must advertise for bids while also working with the state Department of Environmental Protection to investigate whether the building contains asbestos. The time needed to make that environmental determination could also delay demolition.

But the biggest impediment is finding out who actually owns the building. City officials are pointing to Jeff Watson, an administrative law judge for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in Pittsburgh, and his wife, Lynn, as the owners.

However, they also sent notices to Jim Zawacki, the other person thought to be involved with the property. Zawacki’s lawyer, Jim Jefferies, said his client was separated from that building’s title last year and that the Watsons are the current owners.

The Watsons could not be reached for comment. Davis said determining the true owner has been a tedious process and isn’t over yet. She thinks officials ultimately will do a title search on the property to find the true owner.

But the problem at the North Main Street building in the heart of Washington’s business district is not unusual to the rest of the city, Davis said.

“That’s a lot of problems we have in the city,” Davis said. “The buildings are under corporations and then people hide behind them. There’s no movement on them and then we’re stuck with a dilapidated, deteriorating building.”

Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working at the Observer-Reporter, he also has spent time at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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