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Building owner faces summons

UNDER SCRUTINY — City building inspectors have expressed concern over a bowed exterior wall of a vacant building at the corner of Adam and Fourth streets, but owner Mark Nelson told Municipal Judge John Mascio this week he's awaiting engineering approval of architectural drawings for its repair. -- Linda Harris

STEUBENVILLE — The owner of a downtown commercial property cited for a major building code violation told Municipal Court Judge John Mascio he’s hoping to have what he needs for an engineering review within the month.

Mark Nelson, sole member of Mark Nelson Holdings LLC, was in Housing Court Wednesday to answer the summons, only to find out that, sole member or not, because the building is an LLC he will have to be represented by an attorney.

The hearing was reset to Aug. 6 to allow him to retain legal representation, and in the meantime Mascio said the city, given the gravity of at least one of the alleged violations, may “take whatever action is necessary … to provide for the inspection of the building and for the removal and repair of the building in the event that it is insecure, unsafe or structurally deficient.”

The official complaint, filed on the city’s behalf by Assistant Prosecutor Steve Lamatrice in May, alleges inspectors found “exterior wall sections bricks are missing mortar – and wall bowing out, likely to partially or completely collapse or become detached.”

It also cited the building’s owner for broken or missing windows, and its overall condition.

Nelson told the judge he’d had architectural drawings done, “preliminary drawings, to be reviewed by the engineering office of that firm. The next step would be (city review).” He said he’s hoping to have that engineering review done in the next “two weeks to a month.”

“It’s been a lengthy process,” he said in court.

Mascio said that while Ohio law clearly states a layman cannot represent a limited liability company in legal proceedings, “the allegations raised in the complaint are beyond cosmetic and, if true, pose a credible threat to public health and safety.”

“I’m also putting in the order that the city can take whatever measures necessary independent of this court to secure the building if it is as structurally defective as alleged in the complaint” he said, though he later told Nelson, “You’ve always taken care of (similar) matters and I trust that will continue.”

Lamatrice said whether the city waits for the judge’s ruling or moves forward on its own is not for him to decide.

“That is up to the city through the building department,” he said. “My criminal violation is just about the condition of the property. The city can act if (it) wants to.”

City officials declined comment.

Likewise, repeated attempts to reach Nelson after Wednesday’s hearing were unsuccessful. In June, however, Nelson was contacted after 6th Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna had voiced concerns over the building’s structural integrity at two successive council meetings. Villamagna had said machinery was “pushed up against the building, holding the building from collapsing.”

Nelson had said at the time he’d had architects with a Cleveland firm that specializes in historic structures “working on it since last year” and said “they’re a small business affected like the rest of us “ by the pandemic. He’d said city officials had been in touch with them to verify they were, in fact, making progress.

Nelson also had said a vehicle had struck the building decades ago, compromising that section of the wall. He’d also pointed out that buildings downtown “were all designed to have the neighboring buildings protecting and supporting each other.”

“Every time we lose one of these integral buildings in a city block, the remaining ones develop new challenges that have to be dealt with,” he’d said in June. “Projects like this are what revitalizing sometimes looks like.”

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