The owner of four apartment garages deemed “unsafe” by the Town of Tonawanda has not done nearly enough to repair the structures, and will likely grant approval for their demolition if renovations are not done soon, a state court judge said recently.
Owner Frank Giuliano has sued the city to block enforcement of the City Council’s November 2022 decision that the four garages along Kenmore Street pose a potential danger to the public.
State Superior Court Judge Amy Martucci did not set a deadline for Giuliano, but said she wants to see tangible progress on repairs before winter brings the potential for heavy snow accumulation on flat-roofed structures, according to a memo the town attorney released afterward. Court conference on October 24. Martush set the date for the concerts to return on November 30.
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“We’ve said it from day one: If he doesn’t fix them, we’ll take them down,” Tonawanda Superintendent Joseph Eminger said Tuesday.
Giuliano, in an interview, insisted that he had made a good faith effort to repair the four garages, and reiterated his engineer’s conclusion that the buildings were structurally sound.
“I think, as we originally said, the garages will never collapse. They were by no means intact,” he said.
The Tudor-style brick apartments date back to the 1940s and stretch along Kenmore Street between St. Joseph’s Collegiate Seminary and Inglewood Avenue on the city’s southern border.
Giuliano owns some, but not all, of the apartments on this half-mile stretch — about 150 units. A previous Buffalo News analysis found that apartments owned by Giuliano generated a higher volume of police calls than apartments of other owners.
Neighbors have complained for years about nuisances and public safety issues at buildings owned by Giuliano, and some say the city has not pressured Giuliano to address code violations.
The Aug. 28, 2022, triple shooting in a basement apartment on Parker Boulevard that left two people dead has drawn more scrutiny.
Neighbors have complained for years about quality of life issues in several buildings along a half-mile stretch of Kenmore Avenue.
Giuliano has previously defended his record as a landlord, but said the Covid-19 pandemic had proven a challenge.
He said several employees responsible for property maintenance have resigned, and dozens of tenants have stopped paying their rent due to rules that halted eviction proceedings for nearly two years.
Giuliano said he hired some new workers, and in the summer of 2022, they began basic rehab of the buildings, including painting shutters and other exterior features. Neighbors and town officials dismissed the work as largely cosmetic.
“It looks better aesthetically. But structurally, it still has some serious deficiencies. This is the work that we were calling for and it wasn’t done,” Eminger said. “So, the city is not happy.”
On September 22, 2022, the Tonawanda Supervising Code Enforcement Officer cited four unsecured garages – two with an address of 765 Kenmore Ave. and one at 3 St. Johns Ave. and 4 St. Johns Ave.
In all four cases, Thomas Duncan wrote, the structural cement walls had “severely deteriorated.” The wooden load-bearing walls showed signs of failure; Windows and roofs were damaged. Giuliano was ordered to repair or remove the garages within 10 days, but instead, he painted and caulked, Duncan said at a public City Council hearing in November.
Giuliano’s attorney and the architect spoke at the hearing, arguing that Giuliano was committed to taking care of his property and that their own analysis showed the garages were not in danger of collapsing.
The board upheld the “unsafe” designation after the hearing.
But Giuliano filed suit weeks later before Tonawanda officials could take further action. His Section 78 petition says the demolition order is “arbitrary and capricious.”
The case has remained unresolved ever since, causing neighbors like Marilyn Susanski, who lived two doors down from Giuliano’s apartments on St. John’s Street for decades, to lose faith in substantive change.
“It certainly didn’t look like they were doing anything remotely — and that’s just my perception from being in our house — which is very close to the actual need to make this safe,” Susanski said this week.
On October 24, Martucci, the judge overseeing the case, held a meeting with Michael Cimassi, Giuliano’s attorney, and Mark Della Posta, the town attorney. Giuliano, architect Michael Anderson and engineer Arnaldo Petrelli Jr. also appeared, along with Duncan and the city’s chief code enforcement official, Lawrence Hoffman.
Hoffman said Giuliano’s contractor delivered plans for the repairs to the St. Johns Avenue garages too late for him to inspect the structures and review documents before the hearing, according to Della Posta’s summary of the hearing.
He said he was able to review plans and drawings for the work on the Kenmore Street garages in September, and a month later, inspect the repairs made to that point. Some of the repairs were deficient, with the contractor in some cases using used or inappropriate materials, and that work will need to be redone, Hoffman said.
Water continued to seep through the garage roofs and at least the top layer had to be removed to allow the full extent of the structural problems to be analyzed, Hoffman said. He said the entire roof may need to be replaced, along with replacing the wood in the garages.
Petrelli, Giuliano’s engineer, joined Hoffman in the inspection and did not disagree with that assessment, although Giuliano in court tried to challenge Hoffman’s conclusions, Hoffman told the judge.
Martucci told Giuliano she needed to see tangible progress on repairs to the four garages or else she was inclined to let the city move forward with demolition.
“She noted that six months had passed with little to no progress on his part, and that she had public safety concerns that roofs might collapse under the weight of the snow this winter if the work was not done,” Della Posta wrote. Implemented correctly.”
The judge set a follow-up hearing for November 30 and set hearing dates for Giuliano’s request in December and February.
The city considers the November date a deadline for Giuliano, although that depends on what the judge decides that day.
“Our position hasn’t changed. He delayed this for six months, over six months, and now we’re glad the judge finally set the dates,” Eminger said.
The supervisor added that the town will continue to pressure Giuliano over the garages and other buildings he owns.
Cimasi did not respond to a message seeking comment. “It’s almost like the city is asking for more work on the garage,” said Richard Lipps, Giuliano’s attorney, who did not attend the conference.
Giuliano, who spoke with The News this week, said one leak was found in the 120-foot garage ceiling. He considered safety concerns “unfounded” and noted that the structures withstood severe storms last winter without problems.
“Nothing fell,” he said. “What more do you need?”