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Decision on Bunting Demo. Delayed for Procedural Reasons

Case referred to lower court.

Despite 90 minutes of testimony, a hearing on the Bunting House demolition before a Court of Common Pleas judge was stopped when it was learned the case improperly reached the courtroom. 

Judge Albert J. Snite, Jr. assigned a request to stay demolition made by the Central Roxborough Civic Association to Motions Court Tuesday, after attorneys for the neighborhood group and property owners Giovannone Construction debated the validity of a demolition permit at 5901 Ridge Ave. 

The case never went through the lower court, and as Snite warned when the hearing began, it needed to originate there before he could process it. 

Snite issued an order requesting Motions Court take it up quickly, at a maximum five days, due to the mishap.

Both sides got the chance to lay out their cases in front of Snite before the delay and the additional time could answer some lingering questions.  

Giovannone Construction secured L & I approval to demolish the structure—along with adjacent Ridge Avenue homes—into a vacant lot, which the city says is permitted because it's the absence of a use. Neighbors seek to preserve 5901 Ridge Ave., also known as the Bunting House, which they say is historic, though no official designation exists on it.

Hal Schirmer, representing a coalition of civic associations, argued Tuesday that the judge should issue a stay to prevent the property from being demolished before the Department of Licenses and Inspections Review Board and the Zoning Board of Adjustment could review his clients' appeal. He said he applied for those appeals but has yet to receive a date.

"Demolishing the building while appealing would be like executing a man appealing (the death sentence)," he said. "There's no way to undo it."

The main crux of his case revolved around the question if a vacant lot is a use in and of itself. If that's the case, a zoning variance would have been needed and a public hearing held. Schirmer argues the city erred it issuing the permit.

Andrew Ross, the city's solicitor, disputed Schimer's death row reasoning, in addition to the question of vacant lot being a permitted use. He says there is no question.

"I've never heard of so many made up, half truths put together to make a coherent argument," he said, adding later. "The city has no dog in this fight. We're not supporting the developers. We're not supporting the neighborhood. We're supporting the procedure, which was followed correctly by the owner."

Ross said a use permit is required if a structure is built. A lack of structure means a lack of use. Schirmer said the city's zoning requirements don't provide for vacant lot as a permitted use on its documentation. Therefore, the deviation for the lot should require a variance.

Carl Primavera, who represents the Giovannones, said the case's legality is about property rights. Whether neighbors like a property or not has no stake in the argument.

"Harm only exists if someone has legal right. To say the public has a legal right to stop a demolition because they like the building is a violation of the property owners constitutional rights," he said.

Additionally, Primavera and Ross both argued that the Schirmer should have applied for a stay through the city rather than the court—although it was disputed if a third-party organization, like the civic association, could do so.

The judge said Judge Idee Fox could rule on the case's validity as soon as Wednesday.

Sam Fran Scavuzzo December 06, 2012 at 03:27 AM
The update today is that the next hearing with Judge Fox will be Monday.

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