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Former Hamilton Hotel condemned by city

April 01, 2013|By HOLLY SHOK | holly.shok@herald-mail.com
  • The Hamilton Hotel building has been closed since late January and was recently condemned by the City of Hagerstown.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

Hagerstown officials have condemned the former Hamilton Hotel, a five-story building on West Washington Street, after it went without heat over the winter, causing its pipes to freeze and burst.
 
“That doesn’t mean that the property has to be demolished,” John Lestitian, the city’s director of Community and Economic Development, said last week.

What it means is that the building is “not habitable” and can’t be used in its current condition, Lestitian said.

UGO Property Management leases storefronts in the building at 86-98 W. Washington St., which faces the Washington County Courthouse. The most recent Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation real property data search for Washington County lists Ares Investment Group LLC as the property’s owner.

Hagerstown Fire Marshal Doug DeHaven said temperature checks of the building’s interior on Jan. 28 revealed the warmest spot was 28 degrees, which would have caused the pipes to freeze. DeHaven said 40 degrees is the minimum temperature that a commercial building must maintain.

According to Lestitian, property owners are required to provide heat under the city’s property maintenance code and under fire code.

Bringing the building back up to code would include repairing the fire system, Lestitian said. The owner also would need to provide heat and verify the electricity is safe.

UGO property manager Angela Taylor initially said she was unable to answer a list of questions from The Herald-Mail regarding the building and its history, but later issued statements via email.

“The Fire Marshal and City Code officials condemned the building and have forced the tenant to cease his business activities immediately,” Taylor wrote, referring to Atomic Comics, the sole business operating in the 60,000-square-foot building at the time it was condemned. “A temporary occupancy was requested from both departments, however no department was willing to work with our office, and thus there was no grace period permitted to allow the tenant to temporarily occupy and operate his business, even though he has been in the space for 15 plus years.”

Taylor said an unnamed subcontractor’s failure to properly drain the pipes caused them to burst.

William Haberlein, owner of Atomic Comics, said he has been operating via Internet and phone orders. Haberlein has been stationing himself at his store from 11 a.m. until dark to let his customers know he has not closed.

DeHaven said as of March 27 the city had not been given an evaluation of damages by a  licensed contractor, which is the property owner’s responsibility.

“It’s safe to say at this point we can’t turn the electric back on or the water back on — definitely can’t turn the water back on because it will just start running in the building again,” Lestitian said.

Lestitian said he and Downtown Manager Andrew Sargent have spoken with Haberlein, offering to help find accommodations for his store.

“I’ll say this, I find this sad,” Lestitian said. “I really find this sad. It’s sad for the tenant ... that the building’s owners have placed the tenant in this situation.”

When reached by phone earlier this month, Haberlein said UGO told him he can wait to reopen his business once the building is brought up to code or he can move to a property at 20 W. Washington St. that also is owned by UGO.

“We have been assisting this tenant and negotiating with the future tenants to find alternate space as well as try to correct the violations. Currently, contractors have been scheduled to repair the pipes and address the code violations,” Taylor wrote, noting two tenants are slated to occupy the building’s first-floor retail space.

“The second floor office space is currently vacant and the third and fourth floor has a plan to complete housing units for downtown residents,” Taylor wrote.

Lestitian said upon investigation of the property, the city learned the owner of Atomic Comics has to leave his space to use a restroom, which is against city code.

“For an owner to have that type of a setup, I find it sad. It’s one of those things where the city wants to see the building’s owner be a good corporate citizen and do the responsible thing, finish their project, supply the building systems so tenants can have heat, can have water, can have a restroom,” Lestitian said. “I don’t think that’s asking anything, I mean that’s bare basics. And I find it sad that these particular owners have failed to do that.”

The city was unable Monday to provide the number of condemned buildings in Hagerstown. Lestitian said “the city does not maintain a list of structures which may or may not be condemned on any particular day.”

In 2010, Ash Azadi, a partner in Ares Investment Group LLC, announced plans to turn the third, fourth and fifth floors of the building into 24 condominiums. Sketch plans at the time, according to Herald-Mail archives, showed six efficiency units, 11 one-bedroom units, six two-bedroom units and one three-bedroom unit.

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