City Hopeful Site Of Massive Blaze Will See New Use
City officials are hopeful the site of a former, derelict furniture plant that was destroyed in a massive fire last year can be redeveloped. One step toward that realization, however, remains tied up in city Housing Court.
On Friday, the city’s corporation counsel and the attorney representing Allen Street Development LLC and the principal owner of 1061 Allen St. were in court before Judge George Panebianco.
There are two open cases from the city tied to the former Crawford Furniture property, one against the limited liability company and the other against Richard Rusiniak.
Daryl Brautigam, a north county attorney representing Rusiniak, indicated to Panebianco that Allen Street Development is willing to plead guilty to the various code violations that had accumulated prior to the Nov. 16, 2022, fire that tore through the sprawling complex.
Panebianco had hoped to resolve the cases Friday, bringing both parties aside and then together in private conference to potentially hash out a resolution. Though nothing official was reached, the judge thanked Brautigam and Elliot Raimondo, city corporation counsel, for their willingness to talk, noting the number of adjournments he’s already issued in the cases this year.
After further discussion, Panebianco adjourned matters to early June, at which time a plea and sentencing hearing is scheduled. The court also will review briefs to be submitted by Brautigam and Raimondo regarding Rusiniak and what, if any, liability he may have following the fire.
“My client is looking forward to having this matter put behind it and is hopeful that an amicable resolution can be reached,” Brautigam told The Post-Journal after court was adjourned Friday.
Raimondo, in talking with reporters, alluded to Allen Street Development’s intention to plead to the violations — a new development for one of the ongoing cases. As a result, he said, the city will be able to “seek damages in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions of dollars, for the damages incurred during the fire on Nov. 16, 2022.”
“We’ll be assessing those damages on that LLC and hopefully, depending on what happens … against Mr. Rusiniak and his personal capacity,” added Raimondo, who pointed out that an emergency demolition at the time of the fire alone cost $100,000.
In a scathing news release Feb. 2, 2022, the city said an inspection of the 1061 Allen St. property included the testing of suspected hazardous materials that were being stored. The former Crawford Furniture site had been condemned due to feared structural collapse “caused by long deteriorating conditions as a direct result of property owner neglect.”
The city requested assistance of the Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Environmental Conservation, which sent investigators for the inspection.
Crystal Surdyk, city director of development, noted in the Feb. 2 press release the property had been cited several times for housing debris and junk. She called the Allen Street complex a “problem property” and urged the Rusiniaks to cooperate.
Last November’s fire further buoyed the city to hold Allen Street Development accountable. The blaze also destroyed the last vestige of Crawford Furniture Co., which filed for bankruptcy in March 2012.
In its annual report, the Jamestown Police Department indicated that nearby video captured two people entering the building from the rear just before the fire started. To date, no charges have been announced.
In a visit last year, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer called on the EPA to launch an investigation into the fire and to release funding for cleanup efforts.
“Behind us was one of the economic hearts of Jamestown, the Crawford Furniture factory and it’s a testament to the city’s legacy,” Schumer said during his highly publicized stop. “Jamestown once was called the furniture capital of the world. It was once a source of pride for this community, but now it’s a toxic eyesore, possibly filled with hazardous chemicals and asbestos from its industrial past that are preventing this site from reaching new potential.”
On Friday, Surdyk reiterated the city’s wish to have debris cleaned up as quickly as possible and for the property to be put to new use and back on the tax rolls.
“It’s one of the very few potential sites that we have in the city that could actually be redeveloped at this point,” she said. “So, that’s certainly what we’re working toward.”
Surdyk said the city is now just waiting to hear from the EPA for cleanup efforts to begin, which could come as soon as a month from now. She added the EPA was at the site about a week ago “assessing their next steps.”
“We are hopeful that things will move forward relatively soon and that the process should be somewhat quick,” she said.
The property encompassing more than 2 acres is still owned by Allen Street Development. Raimondo said there’s about $90,000 in back taxes owed at the moment.
“To fully get the Allen Street property back to a normal property set for human habitation would probably be around over a $1 million to get that cleaned up,” he said.