After multimillion-dollar lawsuits, a grand jury investigation, and a small fire, a years-long dispute over whether an Abington high-rise was safe for occupancy moved toward a settlement Wednesday night.
The township commissioners approved at their meeting the signing of an agreement among Abington Township, its former fire marshal, and Old York LLC/Metropolitan Properties of America that will drop a series of state and federal lawsuits filed by the parties against each other. It signaled a resolution to ongoing controversies over the apartment building formerly known as the Colonade, a multi-story complex of more than 500 units at Old York and Township Line Roads.
At the heart of the conflict was Old York's objection to upgrading the building's fire-safety system or installing more fire sprinklers during renovations that began in 2014. The fire marshal and other township employees said upgrading the fire system was necessary, according to court documents.
In addition to ending the lawsuits, the settlement calls for tossing out accumulated code violations levied against the property owner, Township Solicitor Michael Clarke said Wednesday night. He said the former fire marshal, Kenneth Clark, and the property owners had agreed to settle.
The agreement will not waive the township's obligation to properly enforce its codes and laws, Clarke said. It includes a "mutual non-disparaging" clause that means those involved can't talk about the issue after it is signed.
The Board of Commissioners approved the settlement by a 9-3 vote, with one abstaining and two absent. The settlement "would resolve all open matters currently involving the parties," Clarke said before the vote. No payments will be made by any party.
Commissioner Dennis Zappone, who voted no, said he was "just not comfortable" with the agreement. "It's our job to protect our residents' lives and property," he said. "Knowing that there may be some open violations and not knowing if those violations have been corrected, I cannot support this."
Commissioner Peggy Myers also voted no, saying "the only positive part" of the agreement would be that it ended the dispute. But, she said, "I don't think it ends it well, and I certainly don't think it ends it fairly."
As the Colonade, the high-rise building — built in 1955 as the Benson East — was the subject of repeated resident complaints. In 2012 the township cited the owner for nearly 200 code violations. In April 2016, when only one resident was living in the building, a trash fire broke out. That summer, a grand jury questioned various township employees and an Old York representative, according to the lawsuit filed by the former building code officer, Lisa Erkert. The case was never publicly concluded. In 2017, Erkert lost her position and was reassigned; she sued the township under the whistle-blower-protection law in January. Her case is ongoing.
After its $26 million renovation and a rebranding as 100 York, the building is open and advertising newly renovated apartments.
Online, multiple recent reviews show residents with ongoing problems: complaints about heat and air-conditioning are most common, along with reports of difficulties getting issues addressed. One woman's January review reported five days without heat in subfreezing temperatures.
In one March review on Yelp, a woman wrote: "We have only been here a few months and have already experienced no hot water, several issues with no heat and smaller minor [inconveniences]. Not to mention the constant sound of smoke detectors going off with low battery signals."
In a response to that review, a 100 York representative said, "We strive to make our residents' living experience the best it can be and are happy that you have chosen to call 100 York home …. We take these issues seriously and aim to resolve them as quickly as possible."