City of Pittsfield wins round in lawsuit over demolition
PITTSFIELD -- Barring a successful appeal, the city won't have to pay damages for demolishing a Melville Street building in 2010 without a valid demolition order.
Judge Daniel A. Ford ruled Aug. 28 in Berkshire Superior Court -- following a trial before him on the compensation issue -- that no payment by the city is required.
In November, Judge John A. Agostini entered a summary judgment in a suit filed by the property owner, Pesu Inc. of Pittsfield, that the city had proceeded with the April 2010 demolition without having a valid demolition order in hand.
The owners had sought $125,000 in compensation for the action, and that issue came before Ford in Superior Court, according to City Solicitor Kathleen E. Degnan.
"I am happy with the result," Degnan said on Wednesday. "Yes, the city made a procedural mistake, but it did not cause economic harm. The city was not ordered to pay anything."
Degnan said that in arguments presented before Ford, the city said the 11-15 Melville St. property had been the subject of inspection violation notices from the Board of Health, beginning a decade prior to the demolition. The building was deteriorated and had no value, the city maintained. Degnan represented the city in the Pesu lawsuit.
Attorney Ethan S. Klepetar of the Law offices of Sherwood Guernsey in Pittsfield represented Pesu Inc.
"With all due respect to the court, I think the decision is wrong on both the law and the facts," Klepetar said in a written statement on Wednesday. "In a prior decision, the court had ruled the demolition of our client's buildings was illegal. In the hearing to assess damages, our expert, the only expert to testify who was certified to appraise commercial real estate, said the value of the buildings before they were demolished was $125,000."
Klepetar added, "Just prior to the city's illegal demolition, the city itself had assessed and taxed the buildings at $86,820. ... In short, to get taxes, the city said the buildings were worth $86,820. To avoid paying damages for the illegal demolition of the buildings, the city said they were worth $0."
The attorney said he "will be meeting with our client to discuss an appeal."
Madeline C. Culpo of Pittsfield is listed as president of Pesu Inc.
In his decision last year in the lawsuit, Agostini wrote that because "the [Board of Health] did not issue a condemnation order, they did not provide sufficient notice and thus were without authority to demolish Pesu's building."
According to suit papers, four apartments in the complex were cited six times between 2000 to 2004 for various sanitary code violations. In 2006, the Board of Health declared the property "unfit for human habitation" and issued a condemnation order, but rescinded the order three days later.
New violations were issued in 2007 by the Board of Health, which began to discuss a demolition but also gave Pesu some time to find a buyer for the property. The building was demolished in April 2010, following a final inspection that January which found continued violations.
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