Owner of demolished restaurant to city: Fork over settlement funds

YOUNGSTOWN — An attorney for the owner of the former Anthony’s on the River building taken down in a controversial demolition in 2020 is asking a federal court to enforce a settlement reached more than two months ago with the city.

“Payment is approximately 60 days late and plaintiff is incurring additional expenses with this motion,” wrote Charles Dunlap, attorney for Two Bridges LLC, the property’s owner.

U.S. Magistrate Carmen E. Henderson ordered a court hearing for April 4 on the motion to enforce settlement.

In response to Dunlap’s filing, James Vivo, the city’s first assistant law director, said, “I’m not sure there is a delay. What has to happen with the city is more complicated than a regular settlement, and it has not worked its way through all the channels yet.”

With Dunlap’s filing, Vivo said, “We’ll do it more along the lines of an emergency measure.”

Vivo said city council meets Wednesday, the day before the federal court hearing, and he hopes to have it resolved before it gets to court.

Law Director Lori Shells Simmons said, “We’re actively trying to settle. It’s easier to get rid of it now. My mantra is pay me now or pay me later. Paying later is always more costly.”

Details of the settlement haven’t been disclosed.

Dunlap said in December the agreement “is fair to both parties.”

He said Wednesday the city was supposed to pay by Jan. 31.

“I’m from the old school,” he said. “When you make an agreement, you follow it. The city has to honor its agreement.”

Dunlap wrote in the court filing that a settlement was negotiated Dec. 11 with the assistance of the federal court. Three days later, Dunlap wrote he sent the draft with Vivo approving it Dec. 28 and Jared Wagner, a Dayton attorney from the Green & Green law firm working for the city, making several additions.

Dunlap’s filing stated the final draft was signed Jan. 23 by Two Bridges and sent to Wagner two days later.

Dunlap wrote “a reminder was sent to the defendant regarding a signed agreement and a check. No response was received. On March 20, a phone call was made to attorney Vivo, but no response was received.”

Two Bridges was seeking $212,000 in damages along with attorney fees and costs in the lawsuit.

Any settlement of at least $25,000 needs to be approved by city council and then the board of control at public meetings. If the settlement is under $25,000, just board of control approval is needed at a public meeting.

The city has a $50,000 deductible on its insurance coverage.

The city argued it had “statutory immunity” from the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment due process provision and couldn’t be sued for demolishing the building on the corner of Oak Hill and Mahoning avenues on Aug. 22, 2020, despite not first informing the owners.

U.S. District Court Judge Benita Y. Pearson denied that motion on May 10, 2022, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th District rejected the city’s appeal on June 15, 2023, sending the case back to Pearson.

The demolition was done without first informing city council, which was going to vote four days later on paying for the emergency demolition. Several council members learned about the demolition after being contacted about it by a reporter for The Vindicator.

The issue so upset council members they refused to pay the $48,000 demolition cost until June 2, 2021, when Jeff Limbian, then the city’s law director, said Steel Valley Contractors, the Youngstown company that did the work, was going to sue over nonpayment.

Two Bridges first sued on Nov. 13, 2020, in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

The company contended the city’s emergency demolition ordinance, which allowed the building to be taken down, violates the Ohio Constitution and Youngstown deprived it of its property without due process in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

The case went from local court to federal court on Dec. 14, 2020.

Pearson dismissed the claim that the city’s emergency demolition ordinance violates state law, but refused in that same May 10, 2022, ruling to grant summary judgment to Youngstown on the federal due process claim.

That resulted in the city appealing that decision on June 2, 2022, to the 6th Circuit.

The appeals court agreed with Pearson in a June 15 ruling and sent it back to her for the trial to proceed in her court.

The city’s emergency demolition ordinance “deprived Two Bridges of its right to due process,” the decision states.

The city argued it isn’t required to notify a property owner before an emergency demolition yet the U.S. Constitution states that no person shall be deprived of property without due process of law, the decision read.

It added: “Viewing these allegations in context, it is apparent that the claim focuses on Youngstown’s alleged failure to afford Two Bridges appropriate procedural safeguards before destroying its property.”

The city argued fire Chief Barry Finley, who issued the emergency demolition order, has that authority. Two Bridges contended the matter wasn’t an emergency, and the city should have held hearings to give property owners the right to appeal emergency demolition declarations.

Two Bridges owes $89,901 in delinquent property taxes. That includes $48,000 assessed against the company by city council on Jan. 5, 2022, for the demolition costs.

Dunlap has said the building wasn’t taken off the county property tax roll by the city, and the only property taxes owed are for the property and not the building.

The structure was built in 1910 and opened as Anthony’s on the River in 1997, closing about a decade later and stayed vacant. Two Bridges bought it for $100,000 on Feb. 20, 2019, contending it planned to use it for a restaurant, offices and housing.

In its lawsuit, Two Bridges said it had repaired the roof, removed debris from the building and moved an antique bar in before it was demolished.

By the time of the emergency demolition, several municipal code violations and related complaints were filed against Two Bridges, according to the appeals court decision. The city mailed multiple notices to Two Bridges in 2019 advising the building was in unacceptable condition, but sent them to the vacant building and no one from Two Bridges received any notices, the court decision reads.

Finley and Michael Durkin, the city’s code enforcement and blight remediation superintendent, inspected the building on June 12, 2020, to determine if it posed a fire hazard.

They observed the roof had apparently sunk about 6 to 12 inches on all sides. Finley, on June 12, 2020, concluded it was a fire hazard and danger to human life.

It was demolished Aug. 22, 2020.

Have an interesting story? Contact David Skolnick by email at dskolnick@vindy.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @dskolnick


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