By Eli Ruiz
SOUTH FALLSBURG Monday night’s Town of Fallsburg condemnation hearing, stemming from the April 14 fire at the Grandview Palace in Loch Sheldrake, had to be moved from the Town Hall to the community center a block away.
More than 200 owners, renters and interested parties showed up for the meeting with emotions running high as dozens of attendees stood trapped outside, in the rain, with no way of getting in for the special meeting.
A heated exchange between former Grandview resident Dan Cerezo and the Fallsburg Town Board culminated in a board decision to move the meeting down the street to a larger venue in order to accommodate the already frustrated crowd.
“You guys [Town of Fallsburg Board] have never represented us anyway… And you’re not doing it now,” said an irate Cerezo who even threatened a class-action lawsuit against the board if the meeting was not moved to accommodate all.
“We have a legislative meeting first,” responded Town Supervisor Steve Vegliante. Soon after, the board agreed to adjourn the meeting to facilitate the move. The former Grandview residents had many questions for the board, as well as for Grandview Palace Board President David Rajwan.
Once everyone settled down at the new location Vegliante quickly reminded the crowd that the fire at the Grandview was still under investigation and also that, “we [the board] aren’t going to comment on the investigation.” The board quickly passed a unanimous resolution to condemn the entire property where the Grandview once stood.
The few buildings still standing were also included in the resolution as the structures currently have no utilities and are uninhabitable.
An audible sigh of relief could be heard from some of the crowd, though, when Fallsburg Code Enforcement Officer Mollie Messenger said that there was “no fire or water damage in the buildings that stand.” Indeed, most of the former Brown’s hotel which in 1996 was converted into a 396-unit residential condominium complex was leveled by April 14’s huge fire, leaving most of the inhabitants with nothing.
Of the buildings that comprised the Grandview, the G, H, E and M buildings are gone, with the F building and the C wing of the I building safe for entrance. The B building, though still standing, has been found to have a crumbling wall.
“The center of the building [B building] is structurally sound . . . we need to deal with the ends of the building,” said Messenger. “We may be able to reconstruct the building in such a way that you can still go in there and get your belongings,” she explained. “I is almost ready,” said Messenger.
“We are trying to secure the place and get lights in the hallways,” she continued. Grandview Board President David Rajwan assured the displaced that starting with the I building and by appointment only former residents will be able to soon set up appointments to go into their units to collect their belongings.
Rajwan made clear that no more than two units at a time will be accessible. Rajwan also stated that the condominium complex has two insurance policies one for $10 million and the second for $20 million.
A public adjustor has been hired by the board for purposes of advocating for the displaced residents, with the insurance adjustors being allowed access to the property first. Kenneth May who lives in unit F-410 voiced his concerns about possible asbestos contamination in his unit due to the fire and asked, “my question to you is… I believe the F building was built sometime in 1978 after you said asbestos would be an issue… was there any issue of asbestos from the fire that might have gotten into the F building because of the fire?”
In accordance with State regulations, being that portions of the old Brown’s Hotel were constructed before 1978, it is assumed that those portions do contain asbestos, which ostensibly turns the entire site into an asbestos danger.
Town Attorney Jacob Billig explained, “we’re going to be looking at the whole site, possibly based on the issue that you just raised that the fire may have migrated asbestos to some of the younger buildings.”
When May interjected, “I mean, they’re not gonna let us in there if there’s asbestos?”
Billig said simply, “Correct.” Others complained about their belongings and the security detail at the Grandview.
“All I want are my license plates,” said Jason Barreto who lost his vehicle to falling debris caused by the fire. Dave Mallory, head of security at Grandview, “is not allowing us to get our things and he’s not allowing the state boiler inspector to go up and check things out,” alleged Barreto.
“My issue is with security at the hotel,” said Dan Cerezo. “They think they’re in charge of everything.”
“I spoke with Detective Travis [Fallsburg Police Detective Travis Hartman] and I also spoke with Mr. Martinkovic [Sullivan County Public Safety Commissioner Dick Martinkovic] and they both said that there was no reason my son shouldn’t be able to get his plates,” explained Cerezo, but said that Mallory prevented him from gaining entry.
“It’s all accusations, everyone is making accusations… I’m not giving access to anyone who doesn’t have at least a letter of limited liability,” said Mallory. “As soon as people start making their appointments with Mr. Rajwan, I’ll be happy to let them on the grounds to collect their belongings.
“I do have the people’s interest in mind,” he added. “It’s one of my priorities, but I not only have to protect their best interests, but also those of the board as well.”
“I’m just following the directions of the board,” Mallory concluded
In theory, Grandview Palace will have up to 60 days to remove or repair the structures.