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Owner of Lockport building threatens suit over demolition plan

The owner of the former Peters Dry Cleaning is considering legal action if the city tries an emergency demolition of the Willow Street store.

Patrick McFall asked a reporter, "You know how much it's going to cost them when I prove my building's safe?"

He insisted there is no asbestos in the store, whose west wing collapsed Dec. 15.

The city Building Inspection Department ordered McFall to clear up the debris within a week, but also told him to obtain a report from an asbestos removal team.

"I'm going to wait for my report and let them demolish it and sue them," McFall fumed. "What asbestos team can you get to take down a building in a week? You can't even get a permit in a week."

He said he has original blueprints that list the building materials used to erect the structure. The business dates from 1927; the collapsed wing was about seven years newer.

"Not a piece of asbestos," McFall insisted.

Chief Building Inspector Jason Dool didn't buy it.

"Certainly you can't tell by a set of blueprints. It could be in plaster, it could be in window caulking," Dool said. "Due to the age of the building and everything else, I would not be surprised if there were asbestos in the building."

Dool said the city has the authority to demolish unsafe buildings on an emergency basis.

"It would have to a glaring, standout, no-question-about-it threat to the public," Dool said. "We're going to be taking further action to make sure the rest of the building isn't going to fall down."

McFall said none of the city's building inspectors are civil engineers. "Everyone who works in that department isn't qualified to do the work they judge," he said.

"He brings up a good point," Dool said. He said a walk-though is needed to see if the building is unstable.

McFall said a neighbor saw a crack in the wall a few hours before the west wing fell down. "The roof pancaked down because of the walls," he said.

Dool said the walls might have been weakened because of stripping of metal from them. McFall moved his business to Main Street in November under the name of Canal View Dry Cleaning and Tuxedo Service.

The main reason for the closure was the decision of the state Department of Environmental Conservation to add the Willow Street site to its list of Class 2 inactive hazardous waste sites that pose a danger to the public.

That wasn't because of the building's condition but because of dry cleaning chemicals poured onto the ground. McFall and previous owner Earl Peters, who ran the business from 1972 to 2006, both have denied such dumping.

McFall said the building is uninsured. "There's no good endgame for me," he said.

But he said if the city had left him alone instead of bringing up the asbestos issue, "All that debris would have been gone by Sunday [Dec. 18] if they'd have let me remove it. Now my neighbors are going to have to look at it for six months."

Dool said state asbestos regulators might have taken a different view. "If the Department of Labor were to come down here, he could be in trouble," the inspector said.