Democrat File Photo
THE FORMER HOMOWACK Lodge now Machne Bnos Square in Phillipsport is suffering from more than an oil spill, the second in as many years. Officials charge it is violating so many codes that it is unsafe to occupy.
Inspections reveal trouble at former resort
By Dan Hust
PHILLIPSPORT The chief of the Summitville Fire Department and the deputy fire coordinator of Sullivan County agree that the former Homowack Lodge in Phillipsport is a disaster waiting to happen.
While Thursday’s oil spill did not injure anyone, it reaffirmed Summitville FD Chief Tim Koestler’s belief that no one should be occupying that complex of buildings.
“I wouldn’t let my dog stay in there,” he said yesterday.
And he told the Democrat that, due to his deep concerns about potential safety issues, he will not send any of his firefighters into the building if it should catch fire.
Koestler has had problems with the management of the former hotel ever since its current owners, a Hasidic group based out of New Square in Rockland County, purchased it three years ago.
In a letter written to Sullivan County Deputy Fire Coordinator Bill Lothrop on July 7 two days before the oil spill Koestler wrote that an inspection of the Homowack (now called Machne Bnos Square) that day revealed the following:
• Every fire door did not close “100 percent of the way.”
• Various hallways were without emergency lighting and smoke/fire detectors.
• Several fire exits had locks and chains on the inside.
• Many exit signs were not lighted or didn’t exist at all.
• Electrical boxes were uncovered, their wires exposed.
• More than half the sprinkler system was non-functional, including in occupied areas.
• The central fire alarm system was not working, nor was it connected to an emergency response agency (i.e., 911 or the local fire department).
• The ritual bath (mikvah) area featured open cisterns of water without protective grates or locked doors, despite the nearby presence of children.
• Hallways and bathrooms had walls with holes large enough for children to climb into.
• The former indoor tennis court now used as a girls summer camp did not feature smoke detectors or fire suppression systems, and fire exits were blocked by movable walls.
• An updated fire plan has not been filed with the fire department.
• Some areas of the 50-year-old hotel had no fire protection at all.
“We cannot protect this complex from fire or rescue with all of the obstacles we have to face in these buildings,” Koestler wrote Lothrop.
Lothrop wrote back two days later, confirming Koestler’s findings.
“As I recall, these same discrepancies, as well as numerous other violations, have been ongoing for several years,” Lothrop wrote. “The previous Town of Mamakating Building Inspector/Code Enforcement official and the State Health Department were very involved with Past [Summitville FD] Chief Bob Vallono in a futile attempt to get compliance by the representatives of the Homowack.
“It is obvious that lip service was all that was gained.”
Lothrop said the current situation, left unmitigated, “can only spell disaster.”
“The Homowack Lodge is and has been a fire trap for its unknowing occupants (especially children) as well as any and all emergency responders,” Lothrop concluded.
“This complex should be immediately evacuated and closed to all until such time that every code violation and structural deficiency is addressed and then properly repaired to code standards.”
A Rabbi Goldman, with whom town and fire officials have communicated as a representative of owner Ahavas Chaverim Gemilas Chesed, said he was “not in a position to give any statements” when contacted yesterday.
Two years ago, New Square Deputy Mayor Israel Spitzer confirmed that his community had ambitious goals to turn the Homowack into an upstate, year-round Hasidic enclave. At press time, Spitzer had not returned a call for comment.
Koestler told the Democrat it’s not about the religious beliefs or ethnicity of the 250-400 people he’s been told are occupying the old Homowack for the summer.
“I’m not prejudiced here. It’s the safety of the people,” he remarked. “And it seems like we’re just getting the runaround.”