Portage building owner gets time to make repairs

Gaunt said he was in prison and was never informed of any problems with home

PORTAGE — Borough Council will allow the owner of a dilapidated structure to correct structural deficiencies before issuing a final mandate to demolish the building.

In February, council voted to evict the residents of 828 N. Railroad St. and mandated the building be demolished because of its “unsafe conditions.”

Borough engineer Gary Wisor of Stiffler, McGraw & Associates previously surveyed the building and classified it as a “dangerous structure” under the borough’s ordinance.

“The roofing material is long past its useful life, as evidenced by the deterioration of the roof sheathing,” Wisor said in February. “The interior of the building is being exposed to the weather because of the condition of the roof, soffit and fascia as well as the open windows.”

Wisor ultimately recommended that the property be demolished.

On Monday, the owner of the building spoke out to council after receiving what was described as “an unfair mandate.”

“I just bought that building,” Arthur Gaunt, owner of the property, said. “I didn’t even get any time to remodel it.”

Gaunt said he purchased the building in April 2016 from Rick Wherry for $8,000 and had plans to remodel it, but he was arrested in December 2016 for a parole violation.

Borough solicitor Michael Emerick said that, although Gaunt had ambitions to repair the building, the borough had never received any contact with him before deciding to order demolition.

“We held a public hearing,” Emerick said. “We didn’t know what your intentions were with the property.”

Gaunt was released from prison in December 2017, and he said that he was never informed of any problems with the building.

“I never got any notices from the borough,” Gaunt said. “I didn’t even know there was a hearing last month.”

Gaunt requested that the borough allow him to correct issues found with the building, which were among his plans when he purchased it.

“We were gonna start (repairs) when the weather broke,” Gaunt said.

The eviction notice was effective for April 17, but Gaunt said that all of the tenants have vacated the building.

“My brother was living in there,” Gaunt said. “I got out of prison and saw what a dump that place was. I gave him 60 days to move out. He moved out.”

A disabled child was also among the occupants of the building. The child has since been removed.

Council members questioned whether repairing the building was even feasible for Gaunt, with the engineer’s report finding that “over 50 percent of the total value of the building is in serious disrepair.”

Gaunt said the project will be costly, but he is confident that the repairs can be completed.

“We’ll be scraping the barrel, but we’ll get it done,” Gaunt said.

Borough Council President Sharon McCarthy requested the owners “make progress” on numerous repairs to the building before revoking its mandate to demolish the building.

After a unanimous vote, council decided that the water and sewer system, roof, front porch and electric system must be repaired by April 17.

If repairs are completed to borough specifications, council will revoke its decision to mandate demolition.

The borough’s prior mandate will stand if corrections are not made.

“This is just stage one,” Emerick said. “Everything in that engineers report must eventually be taken care of.”

Wisor will survey the building after April 17 to see if any corrections were made.

Council will review Wisor’s report during its May meeting and decide whether to revoke the demolition order or not.