After taking additional time to review the facts of the case, the Board of Building Standards and Appeals earlier this month upheld the city’s nuisance designation of the properties owned by William T. Novak at 14903-14909 Clifton Blvd.
Although Novak can still appeal to the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, the decision allows the city to maintain pressure on Novak to fix his buildings, and also gives it the right to make necessary repairs.
‘Marked progress,’ but still well short of full compliance
At a housing compliance hearing held in Lakewood Municipal Court a week before the board met, Commercial Building Inspector Tim McDonough said he saw “marked progress” on the four apartments at 14909 Clifton Blvd, but “minimal” improvement in the other building. All exterior violations had been corrected. “Most of the heavy work has been done,” he said.
Despite the relatively positive progress report, Assistant Building Commissioner for Commercial Buildings Robert Apanasewicz asked Judge Patrick Carroll to give Novak the maximum fine ($2,000) and close out the case so new housing violation charges could be filed. “Mr. Novak doesn’t have the skills or motivation to maintain the properties,” Apanasewicz said.
Carroll fined Novak $500 and gave him until today to either be in full compliance or risk incurring additional penalties.
Evidence remains the same
In order to consider Novak’s appeal, the Board of Building Standards and Appeals needed to determine what condition his properties were in at the time the city declared them to be a nuisance. Were they “unsafe to occupy” and a “fire and safety hazard,” as the nuisance declaration claimed?
Sam Zingale, Novak’s lawyer, emphasized the improved current condition of the properties. He estimated that 14909 Clifton Blvd. was “days away from being completed.” Zingale stated: “I think clearly there is no nuisance.”
Novak apologized for his previous mistakes and added, “The good news is that I’m here today.” Novak said he “worked [his] whole life to pay for these buildings,” and couldn’t understand how they could be considered a nuisance.
Captains Cove resident Mary Anne Crampton encouraged the board to support the city’s ruling due to years of ongoing problems with the properties. “We have the opportunity to be part of the solution or part of the problem,” she said. It should be noted that Ward 2 Councilperson Thomas Bullock, who lives much closer to these buildings than Crampton, was not present to speak at this meeting.
Crampton’s comments aggravated Valerie Shearer, a Georgetown University-trained historian, who has worked with Novak on his restoration efforts since January. Shearer admired Lakewood’s interest in historic preservation, but didn’t think that the city appreciated the “slow and tedious” nature of the work. She said that Novak, despite his checkered history, had been conducting a professional restoration. “I believe in redemption, and that’s what you’ve seen this last year,” she said.
Board Secretary Dru Siley read the nuisance law aloud. He told the board that the court compelled Novak’s recent progress on the properties. Siley said that even if the nuisance designation was upheld, Novak could continue to repair his properties, and would still have the ability to appeal the decision.
Before voting on the issue, board members expressed their concerns about Novak’s spotty track record. “It does concern us,” one member said. “You don’t follow through,” another member added.
Several board members commented that the city had proved that the building fit the nuisance designation. “I have to disagree,” Novak’s lawyer replied. “It has to be harmful to the public.” Noting that Novak can continue to cited for existing housing violations, he wondered: “When is there going to be an endpoint to this?”
Siley reminded everyone that the board’s primary task was to determine whether or not Novak’s properties fit the nuisance designation at the time it was applied by the city. The current condition of the properties was irrelevant.
The Board voted unanimously to uphold the city’s nuisance designation. One board member said, “I feel this property still exists as a nuisance.”