By Philip Haldiman
The former Smitty’s grocery store at Peoria and Grand avenues is headed to demolition.
The Peoria Building Board of Appeals approved an order of abatement, essentially forcing the owner to file for a permit for the blighted building to be razed.
The five-person board unanimously approved the order, 4-0.
One member was absent.
At a public hearing Nov. 20 Ron Hassid, member and manager of owner Grand Holdings LLC, appealed the order, but members of the board denied the appeal, stating he was unprepared and non-compliant.
“I have not seen a sense of urgency from the owner and this is a very serious situation,” said Chairman David Demmer.
The 91,000-square-foot former Smitty’s has sat vacant for more than 10 years and is in violation of more than 30 codes, resulting in the structure being deemed “dangerous to the life, health, property, or safety of the public” as well as unfit for occupancy, according to city documents.
A March report commissioned by the city from Phoenix-based Willdan Engineering laid out a number of issues with the building, stating interior surfaces are in a severe state of deterioration, completing a structure that has been “abandoned for several years and has not been maintained in a clean, safe, secure and sanitary condition … The current condition lends to a blighting problem and adversely affects public health and safety.”
Neighborhood Service Manager Jack Stroud reported to the board that the building, located near Peoria High School, has become an attractive nuisance to children as well as dangerous and unsafe and unreasonable to repair, based on the Willdan report and the International Property Management Code, a publication that includes codes and standards to ensure safe structures.
“Immediate action needs to be taken,” Mr. Stroud said.
If the owner does not respond to the order, the city will contract a company to demolish the site and the costs would be placed as a lien on the property.
The owner has 45 days to file a demolition permit and then 60 days to clean and clear the property.
In his defense, Mr. Hassid said the building is not unreasonable to repair.
He also said the city relied too heavily on the Willdan report and at the meeting attempted to submit an engineer’s report written Nov. 12 that detailed the building’s condition.
The report was commissioned by the owner.
However, the board rejected the report because it was not submitted to the city in time to be reviewed prior to the meeting. The board also rejected a request for an extension from Mr. Hassid, citing numerous opportunities to address code violations.
“We agree with some of the claims,” Mr. Hassid said. “The building is unfit for human occupancy, I agree with that. Yes, the building needs work but the engineer said it is not structurally unsafe.”
Real Estate Development Officer Scott Whyte said the city offered to buy the Smitty’s property twice at fair market value because they have a vested interest in revitalizing Old Town Peoria, where the structure sits as a landmark entryway to the area. Both times the owner refused.
Mr. Whyte said the city never denied potential tenants or interested parties the opportunity to buy or rent the property, but the city was always transparent about the condition of the building.
He said the city has even introduced interested developers to Mr. Hassid.
“We are always looking for buyers who might be interested in the property to come in, and we make them aware of the building’s conditions,” Mr. Whyte said. “I’m for those interested to have full disclosure. We would never deliberately scare a potential tenant. That would be counter-productive.”
The Smitty’s at Grand and Peoria avenues has received a number of calls for service over the years. Here are calls over the last five years.
Code compliance calls: 21
Graffiti issues reported: 98
Police calls for service: 123
Source: City of Peoria