Church stuck with liability after decision on railroad depot

Church stuck with liability after decision on railroad depot

The depot.
Inspection finds the same crumbling facade

PROVIDENCE - A Sixth District Court judge has affirmed a decision by a state appeals board upholding all building code violations against the former owner of the old Pawtucket/Central Falls Railroad Depot.

But instead of Ike Seelbinder and his 2 BaT LLC being held responsible for repairs and fines associated with the citations involved in the case, officials say the new owner of the structure, a local church, will instead be held liable.

"The new owner is responsible for any existing fines," said Dylan Zelazo, spokesman for Mayor Donald Grebien. Zelazo could not immediately say what the current fine total is.

Attorneys for Seelbinder had argued that a Rhode Island Building Code Board of Standards and Appeals Board decision against 2 BaT LLC was "clearly erroneous" because there was no direct testimony or evidence presented showing that the building was crumbling. A judge disagreed, saying in the pre-Christmas ruling that there was plenty of evidence.

Attorneys had also argued that the former owner of the property could not afford to pay Amtrak's $115,000 daily access fee to make the repairs necessary to bring the building up to code. But the court found that mandating repairs, no matter what the cost, is a "valid exercise of the state's police power to preserve the 'health, safety, morals, or general welfare' of its citizens."

According to Zelazo, a large group of officials from multiple agencies visited the depot for an inspection just before Christmas. City officials, who had received a search warrant to inspect the property, did not find any major structural problems, he said, but did find that their "main concern," crumbling fa?ßade on either side of the building, has not been addressed.

"The new owner needs to address those issues and any additional violations," said Zelazo, telling The Breeze officials are concerned about continued expanding and contracting of water behind the walls and the chance that large chunks could fall on passing trains. The building is in "good to fair' condition, said Zelazo.

For some unexplained reason, church leaders from the Pawtucket-based Iglesia Pentecostal Nueva Vida En Cristo purchased the crumbling and uninhabitable old railroad depot from Seelbinder and 2 BaT LLC for $1 a year ago, despite the fact that Seelbinder's legal team was still in court over the matter and facing fines if they lost. The church had at one time used a portion of the depot for Sunday services.

It appears that the church is now on the hook for what could eventually be millions of dollars in repairs to the old railroad depot or even tearing the building down. Representatives from the church, Jose and Carmen Cardona, could not be reached.

Attorney for 2 BaT LLC, John Garrahy, of the law firm Moses Afonso Ryan, told The Breeze in May that the sale of the depot to the church happened because church leaders were "interested in it" and his client had "exhausted his options" on finding something profitable to do with the property.

Garrahy was asked if the $1 sale to the church was meant to pass off any financial liability involved in the case.

"Hopefully there will be no liability," came Garrahy's response to The Breeze in May.

Garrahy said Monday that he and his team disagree with the court's decision, but "respect it."

Garrahy said the outcome could not have been foreseen. "You never can predict how the courts are going to rule," he said, adding that he did not expect the outcome.

As for how the situation surrounding the property will be handled going forward, that will be decided by representatives from the church and city, said Garrahy, as his client no longer has anything to do with it.

Zelazo said he erred last month when he told The Breeze that Seelbinder and 2 BaT LLC had appealed their case to Superior Court. The only appeal was the one to District Court over the state appeals board ruling upholding the local decision against the former owners.