Judge to rule on legality of Iron City demolitions

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Common Pleas Court Judge Robert C. Gallo is expected to rule by Dec. 5 on an appeal by Collier Development of fines it incurred for demolishing two buildings on the former Iron City Brewing Co. property in Lawrenceville.

The crux of the argument by attorney Chad Michaelson is that the two buildings were not historic and that their demolitions should not have warranted a $20,000 fine.

The buildings were demolished in the summer without demolition permits.

"The question is, is that an appropriate penalty for the mere technical failure to get permits?" he asked the judge.

District Judge Tony Ceoffe in August levied the fines, $10,000 for each of two counts -- failure to obtain the proper permits and demolition of historic properties without the permission of the Historic Review Comission.

When it granted historic status to the brewery property in 2010, the Historic Review Commission excepted one building from the 1970s and allowed its demolition. That was done when the Pittsburgh Brewing Co. still owned the property.

Brewing company CEO Tim Hickman later secured the commission's approval to demolish a one-story building facing Sassafras Way because the building was already caving in. It has been called alternately the bottle shop and the ice house.

That building was appropriately demolished by Collier Development earlier this year. The company purchased the brewing company property in January.

When the ice house was demolished, the building adjacent to that was compromised and torn down as a result, project manager Tim Frew said earlier this summer. A building adjacent to that one was also razed for structural issues, he said.

The city cited Collier Development for both demolitions, which resulted in the appearance before Mr. Ceoffe.

Mr. Michaelson maintained that the two buildings were not visible from a public right of way when the ice house was still standing and thus would not be protected under the historic code.

Paul Loy, the demolitions manager for the city's Bureau of Building Inspection, told the court Tuesday that he "could see a portion of every building from any right of way."

Mr. Michaelson's argument against the historic merit of the two buildings challenged the claim that the entire property was nominated and approved as an historic district.

Architectural historian Carol Peterson said the application was submitted as a district and that the fee paid reflected that, but the box for "district" on the nomination form was not checked. When City Council voted on historic designation, it was to make the Iron City Brewery an "historic structure" under Title 11 of the code of ordinances.

Mr. Gallo noted that the nomination form is like a contract. "If district is not marked on the application, it is not an historic district."

He asked city attorney Celia Liss to summarize the damage done by the demolitions and she said, "The attitude that you can take a building down and see if you can get away with it."

mobilehome - neigh_city - breaking

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.


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