NORTH WALES, Pa. - The big buzz in North Wales continues to be the future of McKeever's Tavern.
An omen was announced at Tuesday night's council session by Borough Manager Nate Dysard: New property owner L&E Management, LLC applied earlier that day for a demolition permit.
Now, council is beginning its due diligence to make sure all necessary steps are taken to ensure the safety and health of nearby residents during a demolition of a building that age and size.
"We are in the process of going through due diligence and find out what protections are in place, what codes are met and what rules are followed," said Council President Michael McDonald after the meeting. "No permit has been issued yet. We are investigating the permit."
While North Wales Borough does have a Historic Preservation District, McKeever's Tavern at 501 E. Walnut St. fails to fall within the district boundaries. McKeever's was sold for $500,000 in April by prior owners Robert McKeever and John McKeever III, according to Montgomery County land records.
Council Vice President Christine Hart has also researched what powers a municipality like North Wales Borough might have in preserving historic structures intended for demolition.
Hart said she asked questions and received her answers via the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs website.
"There are certain avenues we could look into," Hart said. "Of course, there were several court cases that were in our favor."
She said she asked how small boroughs handle demolition of certain landmarks "that aren't protected by certain preservations."
"Some people are concerned, and we should be well aware, of asbestos laws and things of that nature," Hart said. "We have to make sure, if the building is coming down, it's not a danger to our environment."
Councilman Ed Redstreake said the borough must really make sure building materials like asbestos and lead paint are either contained or taken away.
Dysard said L&E Management simply have to fill out a permit and are not required to show any documentation for the demolition. He said the borough will make sure that "all i's are dotted and t's crossed."
"In most cases, it's not a building that old or that size," Hart said.
Councilman Jim Cherry said with a building as big as McKeever's, there are concerns over air quality.
"A bulding that size, with (asbestos) being in the air and people at the train station ...," he said.
Hart said the borough is responsible for enforcement of the proper demolition procedures.
"If we did not dot the i's and cross the t's and something would be amiss, we're the ones writing the permit and there's a responsibility," she said.
Councilman Jim Sando was surprised to hear that North Wales does not have an demolition standards to qualify someone for a permit.
Solicitor Greg Gifford said the property owner must follow state and federal laws when it comes to property maintenance.
"Prior, we had several building codes written into the borough code, but years ago we codified under the Uniform Construction Code," Hart said. "Everything at the state or federal level was passed and it superceded our borough code."
On Jan. 24, 2001, council adopted the International Property Maintenance Code as the property code for North Wale Borough "for the control of buildings and structures." On May 21, 2007, council adopted the provisions of the Pennsylvania Construction Code Act of 1999.
According to the Pennsylvania Construction Code for application of demolition permits, "when a demolition will occur and plans for the replacement building are submitted concurrently, an application for a demolition permit does not have to be submitted. But, if the demolition is not accompanied by a building permit application, application for a demolition permit will be required."
Under the UCC rules, the permit holder is not relieved of compliance responsibilities under state and federal law for asbestos remediation and historic preservation, for instance. The permit holder is required to give advanced notice to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency of demolition work, per the code.
"Yes, there are standards out there. Have we followed them? I can't answer that. Do we need to follow from this point on and always? Yes," said Hart.
McDonald said the issue was "a balancing act."
"(We want) to preserve history of our town, but we also encourage growth and development. Nobody wants to lose historic landmarks, but we need to figure out what is going on and we want to bring new people to town," he said.
He said there are theories on what North Wales can do in regard to preservation.
"We will not impose on his right to develop his land," McDonald said, referring to one of the principals of L&E Management. "We want to protect the borough and residents from anything in demolishing or losing a historic icon."
Hart said she will investigate further on the rights a municipality has when it comes to preserving historic landmarks. If preserved, it may help make it a marketable property, she said.
Hart agreed with McDonald on it being "a balancing act."
"Myself and several residents do not want to see it come down, but obviously the owner has other ideas," she said. "We're doing what we can do, and we want to make sure we are legally not violating residents or the owner."