A Sheep Hill resident determined to find a legal avenue to enter the former Wasilewski’s Market before submitting another bid is proving difficult.
Brittany Ellison put in a bid for $700 for the old market on South Jefferson Street in September with the hope of turning the building into perhaps a coffee shop with a second-floor apartment.
Upon appearing before New Castle City Council for a public hearing, she told them she had not been able to enter the building to estimate the cost of repairs, she faced hesitant councilmen.
“You haven’t been in the building. You haven’t had no professional inspection. Nothing like that,” said Councilman Tom Smith during the hearing. “This can be one hell of a money pit.”
Ellison was also asked if she had secured a financial institution to support her plan, but she did not as estimating the cost would be difficult without viewing the inside.
Her bid was denied by a 2 to 2 vote two days later at the council’s voting meeting. Paul Stefano and Tim Fulkerson voted to deny the bid on grounds the building is dilapidated. William Panella and Richard Beshero voted yes and Tom Smith was absent.
In her continuing pursuit of the property, Ellison was contacted by other local residents determined to help her reach her dream.
“A lady named Audrey (Przybylski) contacted me, and she was the one who actually put those feelers out for me before I started calling,” Ellison said. “She knew Bob Del Signore.”
Ellison contacted Lawrence County Commissioner Robert Del Signore for guidance on the matter.
“I explained to them that if there’s something open that you can get in then that’s fine or you need to get a locksmith,” Del Signore said.
Del Signore, who said he doesn’t recommend breaking into buildings, thinks changing the former market’s locks, even though Ellison does not own the building, is “the safest way to do it.”
During Ellison’s public hearing in front of council, she also received advice on how to enter the building from Councilman Richard Beshero who told her to “kick the door in.”
Tuesday morning, Ellison said, a mission group that focuses on restoring the community and others planned to enter the building but halted the plan when they came to the conclusion the possibility of getting arrested for breaking and entering, since the doors are locked, was a much greater risk than they wanted to take.
“As of yesterday (Monday), we had this wonderful plan of going inside the building, and then we were kind of just like, ‘We need to think through one more time,’” said Ellison.
“They still can’t enter a structure without authorization. It’s still trespassing,” said New Castle City Police Chief Bobby Salem. “If they actually broke into the place, they probably would be charged. You might use discretion on it in some cases, but if they actually made forced entry into the place, I’m sure they’d definitely be charged.”
In order to pursue charges as well as damages, Salem said they would have to contact the property’s owner, which he said would be the county.
Salem said people usually break into those buildings for copper pipes, to seek refuge or to use drugs, and he’s not aware of anyone being caught in a building to assess it for bidding purposes.
In September, tax claim solicitor Tom Leslie said the bureau has the authority to give permission to anyone they want to enter the buildings on the repository list since the county is the trustee of the property, although the owner’s name is still on the deed.
Smith said come January, he’s going to begin the conversation about a city ordinance similar to one Scranton has recently adopted, which requires bidders to secure a performance bond or cashier’s check for the cost of demolition in the event the bidder would be incapable of doing the renovations in a timely manner.
This way, the city nor taxpayers would foot the bill for demolition.
“It also forces individuals to come forward who have the financial wear-with-all to make these types of investments,” said Smith.
As to what Ellison can do to enter the building before that time, Smith said he does not know. Although Smith did recommend Ellison come to the council with an exact plan for the building, offer to put up a bond for the amount of demolition and present those elements to council.
“Right now, that may be the only option,” said Smith.