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Lockport City Court judge hears dry-cleaning demolition dispute

A court hearing began Thursday on whether the Peters Dry Cleaning building, the partially collapsedSuperfund site on Willow Street in Lockport, must be demolished.

The city Building Inspection Department ordered demolition, but owner Patrick McFall is contesting the decision.

City Judge Thomas M. Di-Millo will make the call.

Chief Building InspectorJason Dool testified Thursday for almost an hour, and the hearing was adjourned until next Thursday.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Matthew E. Brooks said the city sent McFall an unsafe-building notice Jan. 27, starting a 60-day period for him to repair the building or tear it down.

Brooks said the point of the hearing is "cost-shifting." In other words, if the court determines the building is unsafe, McFall would have to pay for the demolition.

"There's no money to demolish it. If it's unsafe, the city's going to have to take it down," McFall said in court.

Brooks said that if the building is ruled unsafe, the city might hire a demolition contractor and send McFall the bill, which would be added to his property taxes if he doesn't pay it.

But McFall said, "That property is safe. There's nothing structurally wrong with it."

One wing of the 85-year-old building, a 77-year-old addition, collapsed Dec. 15, leaving a pile of bricks.

McFall said he would have removed the debris within days, but the city insisted that he needed to obtain an asbestos survey of the wreckage before doing so.

After two months of resisting that, McFall finally hired a company. The contractor was supposed to show up Tuesday, but he didn't, and the matter is now day-to-day, defense attorney Jon Ross Wilson said.

Building Inspector David Miller said in court that if McFall had hired an asbestos contractor when he was first told to, the cleanup might be done by now.

McFall has contended that the city was going to foreclose on the property because of unpaid taxes, but Brooks told DiMillo the site has been removed from the foreclosure list.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation rates Peters Dry Cleaning a Class 2 inactive hazardous waste site, meaning it poses a significant threat to human health.

The problem is dry-cleaning chemicals that seem to have been poured on the ground behind the building decades ago. Ventilation systems have been installed to vent fumes away from the store and the house next door.

McFall, who bought the business in 2007, closed it last fall and started a new dry-cleaning store on Main Street.