Complaint Seeks to Have Anthony’s Demo Declared ‘Unconstitutional’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The owner of the former Anthony’s on the River building is asking a court to rule whether the city exceeded its authority when it razed the structure last month and whether it should bear the costs of the demolition, according to a complaint filed in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Monday.

Two Bridges LLC and its partners, Ron Eiselstein and Chris Prater, say they were never afforded a notice or a hearing before the city issued an emergency demolition of the property, the court filing reads. The parties also claim they never received a post-demolition hearing, according to documents.

As a result, the plaintiffs’ “substantive and procedural due process of law were violated,” the complaint said. It requests the court declare that “the defendants exceeded the scope of their authority” and the emergency demolition be deemed “unconstitutional, illegal and unsupported” by evidence. 

Charles Dunlap, attorney for Two Bridges, said he wants the court to determine whether an emergency situation existed before the building was torn down. “If the court determines there was no emergency situation, then that would open up litigation as to monetary damages,” he said.

The filing is an appeal to the city’s decision in late August to demolish the 110-year-old building at 15 Oak Hill Ave. “for the immediate preservation of the public peace, welfare and safety.”

However, the structure was razed four days before City Council could vote on whether to allocate up to $48,000 toward demolition.  Council, irked because the administration acted before the vote, defeated the ordinance 4-3 and the money was not appropriated. 

According to a vacant properties and demolition document published by the city, Youngstown has the legal right to order, perform or contract emergency and nonemergency demolitions of unsafe structures. An emergency demolition is for properties that are in “imminent danger of collapse,” the document states. 

Under an emergency demolition, the fire department is authorized to condemn the structure so demolition could begin. The cost of demolition is recovered from the property owner.  An emergency demolition also allows the city to suspend the competitive bid process in order to expedite the demo work. 

The complaint names the City of Youngstown, Mike Durkin in his capacity as superintendent of the city’s demolition and housing department, and Barry Finley, as the city’s fire chief, as defendants.

Calls to Youngstown law director Jeff Limbian seeking comment were not returned.

City officials said that they had received complaints about falling bricks, which spurred the city’s demolition a month ago. The building was constructed in 1910 by the St. Vincent de Paul Society and was converted into Anthony’s on the River, a popular restaurant, in 1997. 

The city’s actions drew the ire of First Ward Councilman Julius Oliver, who told The Business Journal in August that he suspects the building was torn down for other reasons, and didn’t pose a threat to public safety.

According to court papers, Two Bridges says that there “was no present imminent harm to person or property.”

The plaintiffs have also filed a writ with the court asking the city file a complete transcript of original documents that include engineering reports, inspections, fire and citizen complaints, and any other pertinent evidence related to the demolition. The filing also requests that the city provide “any inquiries made by third parties who expressed an interest in the location at 51 Oak Hill including development plans by third parties and/or the defendants.” 

Anthony’s on the River closed its doors more than a decade ago and the building stood vacant until it was torn down last month. Two Bridges purchased the structure and land for $100,000 in February 2019 with the intention of redeveloping the building, but no project went forward.

The site is now clear and the empty lot is seeded with grass. 

Pictured: The site of the former Anthony’s on the River during the building’s demolition Aug. 24.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.