PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Building, fire, and health officials have shut down an Elm Street retailer because the building had fallen into disrepair.
On Aug. 28, building inspectors deemed 155 Elm St. as "hazardous to life and limb" and restricted public access to it. The ceiling had collapsed on one half of the structure, and inspectors say there was significant water damage. A Board of Survey tour in early October upheld the building inspector's determination, and the Health Department followed up by suspending the owner's food and tobacco licenses.
"During my evaluation of this structure from the outside, I noticed two large sections of the roof had collapsed into the structure, leaving the building unsecured against the elements and intruders," wrote Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski, who was one of four to perform the Board of Survey tour.
"Looking at the interior through the windows it appears that wood framed walls/rooms were added or renovated over time. Examination of the interior shows a fair amount of water on the floors, most likely from recent rains. Also, on the interior, it is evident that there is a fair amount of structural damage to the interior walls. Holes are broken through numerous walls, leaving the structure open to additional damage such as mold and mildew. There is a fair amount of garbage and debris stored within the building."
Czerwinski considered the building "an immediate danger to life" and recommended that it be razed. He noted that years earlier the condition of the roof had led the Fire Department to placard it as unsuitable for interior firefighting.
Owner Saurin Shah, however, said the area in which the roof collapsed is separate from his business. Elm Street Convenience operates out of a portion of the west side of the building, which Shah said is stable. The portion on the east of the former the Elm Street Getty at the corner of Elm and Newell is where there is damage, he said.
Shah is asking for the ability to continue operating out of that side of the building in order to have the cash flow to demolish the other side. He has been working with engineers at SK Design to craft plans to rebuild the site "to give Elm Street a whole new look."
"I can't pay these guys, if I hire them, without any cash flow," Shah said.
Shah purchased the building from the Getty Corp. in late 2012. He said prior to that, the building had numerous issues that the city knew about. He said he had pestered the former owners, even withholding rent at one point, to make the repairs. Eventually, he said the company put the building for sale and he either had to buy it or move.
"I didn't own the building until 2013, 2014. Before that, we were just renting the building from the Getty Corporation. We even stopped paying rent to get attention to some of the issues," he said. "It was a known issue for a long time with the city."
Shah has since paid to create engineering plans but says he can't move forward with actual construction unless he is operating the store. Shah takes issue with the city now shutting him down for longstanding issues in a different portion of the building.
"I personally feel like it came on too fast. I am working on getting it done but I can't do it when I'm unemployed," Shah said.
He added that after years of leasing space on Dalton Avenue for another store -- Dalton Avenue Variety -- he had just gotten a notice from the landlord that he has to move from there, too. He has two stores being shut down at the same time.
Shah made an appeal to the Board of Health to lift suspensions on his permits for 90 days in order to create a revenue stream. The Board of Health rejected his petition but said if he can satisfy the Building Department or find a new location, then the Health Department will work quickly to lift the suspension.
"Unless this building is made safe, there is no way we can reinstate the permits," Chairman Jay Green said. "There is just no way we are going to be able to permit you to operate with these licenses there."
Green added that even if the board did lift the suspension, the Building Department would still need to lift the restriction on public access.
"As long as you are taking affirmative steps, in good faith, in a proactive manner with the department, we'll work with you," Green said.
The building has been noticeably in disrepair for years but it is unclear exactly when the roof over the garage portion collapsed. In the report filed by Building Inspector John Carchedi, a complaint had been made about the property leading to the Aug. 28 inspection.
Czerwinski and three others, including a city engineer, also inspected the property on Oct. 13, finding the structure to be dangerous and open to the weather.
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