July 31, 2014

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Building official escapes discipline

LORAIN — The city’s chief building inspector will not be disciplined for telling an apartment building owner it was OK to remove a fire escape ladder.

Safety-Service Director Andrew Winemiller said Wednesday he’s had several informal meetings with Bill Desvari, head of the city’s Building Department, and has determined that Desvari was not at fault for the ladder’s removal from an Antlers Apartments first-floor rooftop.

A formal investigation will not take place as a result, Winemiller said.

Earlier this month, the missing ladder kept six people, including a 2 ½-year-old boy, trapped on the rooftop for about 30 minutes while a fire raged in a first-floor unit.

Jon Veard Jr., whose United Property Management owns the historic Washington Avenue apartment building, had the ladder removed over the summer after receiving a letter from Desvari saying it was OK.

The undated letter, which was signed by Desvari, states that Veard would have to take out a demolition permit to remove the ladder, but Veard never pulled one.

Veard told Winemiller last week he never pulled a permit because he was under the impression that other permits for construction he was doing covered the ladder’s removal, Winemiller said.

Fire Chief Tom Brown said he disagreed with Desvari’s contention that the ladder could be removed because the building already contained enough fire exits, so he called in the state fire marshals to clarify the law.

After a two-day investigation last week, the fire marshal’s office determined that it was illegal for the ladder to be removed because there was not another sufficient way to get out of the building, Winemiller said.

According to the code, fire exits must be no more than 50 feet from the farthest point or dead end in the hallway of an apartment building.

“I’m not concerned that (Desvari) doesn’t know his job,” Winemiller said. “He knows the code books front and back. Do I disagree with the way he handled it? Sure. But he couldn’t do anything about Veard not taking a permit out.”

Winemiller said he has to give Desvari the benefit of the doubt that he would have denied the plans had Veard submitted them.

“If he had seen the plans and then allowed them to remove it, that’s a different story,” he said.

Desvari did not return several messages left for him Wednesday.

Mayor-elect Tony Krasienko said he plans on speaking with Brown when he takes office next week to determine whether an investigation is warranted.

“Obviously there was a severe communication breakdown,” Krasienko said. “Next week, the era of the undated letter will come to an end.”

Desvari has had a troubled career in Lorain.

In May, he received a written reprimand for approving a contractor’s registration license that contained President Bush as a reference, and was reprimanded a month earlier in response to complaints that he intimidated a city employee.

Lorain Council has asked that Desvari be fired in the past based on allegations that Desvari used city-owned vehicles for private business, was an ineffective manager, misrepresented his education when hired and has felony convictions for theft and forgery.

Contact Adam Wright at 329-7151 or awright@chroniclet.com.