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Council orders McCrory paperwork

Court filing on hold until at least after next meeting

City Council on Monday instructed its solicitor to prepare a declaration by which Altoona could take the blighted McCrory’s building by eminent domain, but also decided not to file it with the court until at least after its next meeting.

Council hopes it can come to an amicable purchase agreement with the owners.

The action reflects co-owner John Helfrick’s plea Monday for additional time to obtain the results of an appraisal he ordered recently, along with time to replace the building’s roof — coupled with council’s reluctance to resort to eminent domain unless absolutely necessary.

“I think everybody on council would much rather see the transaction done outside eminent domain,” said Mayor Matt Pacifico. “We voted for the resolution (to prepare the condemnation paperwork) to have the process ready to go for the solicitor if need be, in the event the building owners don’t follow through.”

The city’s patience is limited, however: the current owners have presided over the building’s deterioration for a decade, despite the filing of many code complaints. Council members are demanding the roof be replaced before winter — because the building may not be salvageable otherwise, according to an engineer’s evaluation, as Councilman Joe Carper pointed out.

Helfrick hopes that a favorable appraisal, replacement of the roof, cleanup of asbestos and lead and elimination of water in the basement would generate a better offer than one or two informal ones he received recently from people he seemed to characterize as something less than serious developers.

One offer was for about $20,000 on a building he and his 50-50 New York City-based partner paid $50,000 for a decade ago, according to information provided at the meeting from Helfrick and council.

The assessed value of the building is $153,000, according to solicitor Tom Finn.

Potential buyers have been trying to get the property for virtually “nothing,” Helfrick said.

Tom Forr, Helfrick’s attorney, declined to say what he thought would be a reasonable price.

“(But) we know what a reasonable price isn’t,” Forr said.

He isn’t eager to spend the necessary money to get a better offer, Helfrick said.

But he probably doesn’t have a choice, “other than just giving it up, which I’m not going to do,” he said.

Helfrick’s appraisal will be two-pronged — the value of the building as is and its value with a new roof.

The city will await Helfrick’s appraisal before deciding whether it should get an appraisal of its own.

If Helfrick’s appraisal is reasonable, it could become the basis of negotiations right away, Finn said.

That approach may get the building protected from further deterioration more quickly than a contested eminent domain effort, he indicated.

But the takings threat could be a motivator, officials indicated.

“I think we should get the ball rolling,” Pacifico said. “Wait for the appraisal, so we have it in our back pocket if we need it.”

Helfrick assured council he’ll find someone to replace the roof.

“If not, our goose is cooked,” he said. “We will have lost all credibility.”

“Your credibility is hanging by a thread as it is,” said Councilman Dave Butterbaugh.

Over the past several years, Helfrick has had trouble doing what needs to be done because of cancer and then COVID-19, he said.

“I believe you mean well,” Butterbaugh said.

One obstacle to prompt replacement of the roof and other necessary work at this time could be contractors’ widespread difficulties getting materials, officials said.

Council will likely instruct Finn on whether to file a declaration of taking at its July 12 meeting, based on what happens between now and then, Finn acknowledged.

“Some good press, please,” Helfrick said as he left the meeting.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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