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Old Honda dealership condemned

NORTHAMPTON — A former car dealership on King Street that has been vacant for nine years, with its roof rotted, has now been condemned and will be demolished.

Building Commissioner Louis Hasbrouck said the former Lia Honda site, at King and Finn streets, presents a danger to unauthorized people who sneak into the building and to emergency personnel who must respond to the site.

“The Fire Department and I agree that the building essentially can’t be secured and it presents a hazard,” Hasbrouck said. “Someone could fall through the holes in the roof. People are intent on getting into that building and a 6-foot fence won’t stop them.”

Hasbrouck said he has been discussing the future of the building at 171 King St. with owner Don Lia for quite some time, but a pair of incidents this spring prompted the city to label the building unsafe and a danger to “life and limb.”

Those events included a late-March fire in a second-floor office and an incident last month in which police and fire personnel responded to a report of a person in the building. The man was one of many people who got into the building through its roof by climbing small trees next to the building, Hasbrouck said.

In a June 6 letter to Lia, Hasbrouck said the building cannot be secured against vandalism because of its poor condition.

“Demolishing the building is the only way to ensure the safety of the public and emergency response personnel,” the letter states. “You are hereby ordered to speedily demolish the building. If you do not, the city shall employ sufficient labor to remove it.”

Lia, who owns Honda dealerships in Huntington, N.Y., did not return a phone call to his office on Wednesday. The Gazette reported in 2004 that Lia sold his Honda dealership in Northampton to his nephew, Vincent Lia, of Albany, N.Y., who moved the dealership into a new headquarters elsewhere on King Street in 2005. Management there said last fall that Don Lia is not affiliated with that business.

Hasbrouck said Lia has received quotes from three contractors in the range of $50,000 and may have a demolition contract in place by Thursday. In case that does not happen, the City Council will be asked at its Thursday meeting to approve a transfer of $81,650 to an emergency demolition account that would enable the city to hire a contractor to complete the work.

Demolition will also involve abatement of materials in the building that contain small amounts of asbestos. Hasbrouck said that work could take about a week, followed by demolition.

Once home to a Northampton Honda car dealership, the 5.3-acre site includes the building and parking lot. Planning Director Wayne Feiden said the site has drawn plenty of inquiries in the last decade, but the only specific proposal submitted to the Planning Board did not materialize.

“It’s the only vacant site (on King Street) and it’s the only one that is this significant,” Feiden said.

The city rezoned the area in 2011 to entrance-way businesses, which makes it more attractive for retail purposes. The zoning includes specific requirements for curb cuts, signs and landscaping. Parking in front of buildings is prohibited in the district and structures must be one story, with a minimum height of 20 feet.

In November 2013, the state Department of Environmental Protection fined Don Lia $15,000 for violating waste cleanup regulations at the site for failing to “maintain site conditions necessary to prevent exposure to contaminated soil and evaluate the risk of exposure to contaminated soil.”

Contamination at the site appears to have stymied a potential sale in 2005 after dispute between Lia and a prospective buyer over the cleanliness of the property. At the time, Lia said the consultants he hired to inspect the property gave it a clean bill of health. But the potential buyer hired its own firm to test the soil and found it was used as a railroad junkyard from 1928 to 1965 and contaminated with PCBs and lead.

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