By Ron Leir
A distraught First Ward resident appealed to the Kearny governing body last Tuesday night for help. Joaquim Ponte said he lives at the lower end of Johnston Ave., with only a narrow alleyway separating his neat two-story home from the rotting former William Pries Iron Works building at 24 Johnston Ave.
Ponte said the old factory structure poses a clear danger, with sections of the west wall and roof exposed and beginning to separate. Only days ago, pieces of the crumbling infrastructure fell into the alley, he said.
While the building has been empty for years, now it is starting to show scary signs of neglected maintenance, Ponte said.
Directly across from the site is a municipal toddler park, Miglin Playground, at the corner of Sheridan Ave., so there is the possibility – however slight it may be – of children wandering too close to the old metal fabrication site and, potentially, into harm’s way.
He was reassured by Township Administrator Michael Martello that the township was on top of the situation and was trying to remedy it.
Next day, Township Building Subcode Official Anthony Chisari confirmed that there was a “significant property maintenance issue” at the Johnston Ave. location.
“It’s been unkept for years and now it’s deteriorating,” Chisari said, with the roof compromised.
The proof of the pudding is, back on Jan. 18, the Construction Enforcement Department issued an “unsafe structure” notice on the grounds there was an “imminent hazard” and that the building needed to come down.
But nothing happened.
Chisari said he was told by attorney Fred Gillespie, who represents the property owner, “they were getting prices to demolish the building, so they were granted an extension.”
On Jan. 28, Chisari said that Gillespie informed him that the owner “was in the process of selling the building.”
As of last week, however, the word from the town was that the owner had hired a demolition contractor and that if the property wasn’t cleared by month’s end, the town would step in and do the job and bill the owner for the work.
Asked to confirm this news, Gillespie declined comment.
Kearny Fire Chief Steven Dyl said the building hasn’t been cited for any fire code violations. “If the building were occupied, it could be a different matter,” he said.
Even if the building does come down, officials say the owner may still be faced with environmental issues, given the likely presence of metal toxins in the ground, which could be remediated by some type of cap with approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
But first things first.
The area is currently zoned as part of a mixed-use redevelopment area, according to Martello, so any new construction would have to conform to those zoning parameters.