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$5,250 in fines remain in place for 230 Diner owner; 'I just want to fix it up and sell,' he says in court

Press & Journal Staff

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Posted 3/4/20

The owner of the former 230 Diner in Londonderry Township has been found guilty of property code violations, after appealing his case to the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas.

The appeal …

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$5,250 in fines remain in place for 230 Diner owner; 'I just want to fix it up and sell,' he says in court

Posted

The owner of the former 230 Diner in Londonderry Township has been found guilty of property code violations, after appealing his case to the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas.

The appeal hearing Monday was before Senior Judge Lawrence F. Clark Jr., who did not levy additional fines against the owner Essam Haggag, of Cleona.

That means fines levied in a summary trial before District Judge David H. Judy last August, when Haggag was found guilty of five citations and fined $5,252.25, will stand.

“I just want to fix it up and sell,” Haggag said during his closing remarks. Haggag had no legal representation and told the judge he can’t afford a lawyer because he has no income. He said he has declared bankruptcy.

As part of its evidence, Londonderry Township solicitor Mark Stewart submitted more than 50 pages of photographs of Haggag’s property at 1125 East Harrisburg Pike.

Clark said the property was in a “deplorable state.”

“The citations constitute violation of the code. Just look at the pictures. You know there’s a saying a picture speaks 1,000 words. This is a dictionary,” Clark said prior to issuing his verdict.

Clark asked Stewart if there was anything in the township’s ordinances that called for imprisonment, and Stewart said no — unless someone fails to pay the fines.

The judge suggested that the parties meet, come up with a plan and bring back a plan to him.

Londonderry Township issued five property maintenance citations against Haggag in May 2019:

• Having unsanitary conditions — exterior property and premises not maintained in a clean, safe and sanitary condition.

• A vacant structure and land not maintained in a clean, safe, secure and sanitary condition.

• Overhangs not properly anchored and incapable of supporting loads.

• Roof and roofing components having defects that admit rain, and roof surfaces that have inadequate drainage.

• Unsafe conditions with siding and masonry joints between the building envelope and windows and doors not maintained weather resistant or watertight.

Haggag appealed to Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas, and his original hearing before Clark was scheduled for Nov. 26.

However, Haggag missed the hearing and in court documents claimed that he wasn’t aware of the hearing.

The appeal was rescheduled to Monday.

Londonderry Township codes officer Ed Kazlauskas testified that the property was in a “dangerous condition” and had numerous violations of the township’s property maintenance code, including an overhang canopy tearing away from the structure. He also said there were mattresses and debris on the property.

“Your honor, we just want to have the citations enforced,” Stewart said during his brief closing statement.

Londonderry Township codes and zoning officer Jeff Burkhart testified that Haggag had applied for permits for rezoning and building and design, but in some instances the permits were submitted to the wrong person or were incomplete.

Haggag argued the matter wasn’t about the disrepair of the property, but Londonderry’s attempts to take his property for free.

Stewart and Burkhart updated the Londonderry Board of Supervisors on the case Monday evening. Despite Haggag’s statement in court about selling, Stewart said Haggag mentioned that he was interested in filing an appeal.

Supervisor Mel Hershey asked Stewart how many more appeals are possible. Stewart said he believed Haggag had one more appeal to Commonwealth Court.

“As Jeff testified during the case, the township’s main concern is just to have the property brought into compliance. So we will stay on that and pursue the township’s legal remedies to the maximum on all fronts,” Stewart said.

Haggag also was cited in 2014, but the charges were withdrawn. He did plead guilty to unlawful activity after the Dauphin County Department of Solid Waste Management and Recycling cited him as part of the county’s crackdown on illegal dumping.

A fire gutted the diner in 2003. There have been several attempts at renovating and reopening it in the years since.

Records filed with Dauphin County indicate that the deed was transferred to Haggag for $70,000 in 2004 from Snodo Inc., which acquired the deed in 1999 from PNC Bank.

Haggag has blamed township officials for denying him the proper permits to reopen.