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Abandoned building to come down

NORTHAMPTON — Demolition of the former Honda dealership on King Street, long an eyesore that the city’s building commissioner now labels a public safety hazard, is set to begin Monday.

The only question is who will do the work — a contractor hired by building owner Don Lia or crews hired by the city. The City Council Thursday night approved a transfer of $81,650 to an emergency demolition account that would enable it to take the 171 King St. building down.

Building Commissioner Louis Hasbrouck and several councilors are holding out hope that Lia will respond to the city’s June 6 order condemning the building and have a construction crew in place before Monday. But if he doesn’t, the city is ready to act, Hasbrouck told the council. As of Thursday night, Lia had not responded to the order, he said.

“They’ve attempted to locate a demolition contractor at a price that is acceptable to them,” Hasbrouck said. “But the city has an obligation to make the building safe.”

If it has to pay for the work, the city would place a lien on the property and seek to recoup the money either through property taxes or when it is sold. Hasbrouck said the lien would amount to a small portion of the total value of the “very valuable” property should it eventually be sold.

The building at King and Finn streets, vacant for nine years, has a rotted roof and several other hazards that pose a danger to unauthorized people who sneak into the building. Hasbrouck said people get into the building through its roof by climbing trees and climbing on the roof. Others have ripped down plywood to gain access.

It’s also dangerous for emergency personnel who must respond to the site, so much so that every time the Fire Department gets a call to go there, Deputy Fire Chief Jon Davine said he gets nervous that he could lose firefighters. He referenced a December 1999 fire in an abandoned warehouse in Worcester that killed six firefighters.

“I don’t want to be in a position to have to send firefighters in there,” Davine said, while acknowledging that the 19,000-square-foot building is not on the same scale as a warehouse. He urged the council to fund its demolition and “be done with it.”

Hasbrouck was careful to note that he issued the order for safety reasons, not because the building doesn’t look good or because the site would be easier to develop if it wasn’t there.

City Council President William H. Dwight also emphasized this point, noting that a March fire in the building had to have been caused by someone who was inside because there are no utilities in the building.

“This isn’t about an eyesore ... this is about a safety hazard to personnel and citizens,” he said.

Though the project is likely to begin Monday, Hasbrouck said the first work will involve abatement of materials in the building that contain small amounts of asbestos, followed by demolition. A fence will also go up around the property.

Lia owns a chain of auto dealerships in New York and lives in Huntington, N.Y. He sold his Honda dealership in Northampton to his nephew, Vincent Lia, of Albany, N.Y., in 2005, at which time the dealership relocated into new headquarters elsewhere on King Street.

The former Honda dealership is located on a 5.3-acre site that includes the building and parking lot where the city stores much of its snow in the winter. That arrangement is still in place, but the city will need to look for a new spot in the future should the property be sold, Mayor David J. Narkewicz said.

The mayor said the city’s economic development director, Terry Masterson, has been working with Lia’s representatives and with the state Department of Environmental Protection in an effort to resolve waste cleanup problems at the site so that the property can be redeveloped.

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