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230 Diner owner fined $5,000; 'It's horrendous looking,' says district judge

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 8/9/19

The owner of the former 230 Diner on East Harrisburg Pike in Londonderry Township was found guilty of numerous property code violations during a summary trial Wednesday before District Judge David H. …

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230 Diner owner fined $5,000; 'It's horrendous looking,' says district judge

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The owner of the former 230 Diner on East Harrisburg Pike in Londonderry Township was found guilty of numerous property code violations during a summary trial Wednesday before District Judge David H. Judy.

“It’s horrendous looking,” Judy said of the property after issuing the maximum fine against owner Essam Haggag, a total of $5,252.25.

Haggag, of Cleona, said during the trial that he’s tried to reopen the diner several times.

“I submitted applications to open the place. Denied, denied, denied,” he testified.

When asked via text if he has considered selling the property, Haggag said, “Yes, we did consider selling it, but were denied too many permits” in order to fix it to get a fair market price.

Haggag has 30 days to appeal Judy’s decision. He was cited in May for five violations:

• Having unsanitary conditions.

• Overhangs not properly anchored and incapable of supporting loads.

• Roof defects with inadequate drainage.

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

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

During the trial, which lasted more than an hour, township codes officer Ed Kazlauskas; BCO, codes and zoning officer Jeff Burkhart; and Haggag testified. Haggag defended himself.

During closing statements, Jim Diamond, attorney for township solicitor Eckert Seamans, called for “serious” fines to be issued against Haggag, saying the property is one of the first views of the township when travelers enter from Middletown.

Kazlauskas has been a codes officer since 2003 and has worked for the township since 2013. He went citation by citation, testifying as to what he had seen. He said he took photos of the property in March.

This was not the first time that he had been cited. Haggag was cited in 2014, but 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.

“It’s a vacant property. It’s been vacant for a long time,” Kazlauskas said.

Kazlauskas said the side door to the building isn’t secured or protected from people getting in, mortar is coming out of the building, there are holes in the roof and issues with the gutter line that was causing icicles to hang down in the winter, and the overhang isn’t properly anchored and parts of the building were breaking away.

Behind the building, Kazlauskas said he saw items such as mattresses and furniture that he described as trash.

“It’s a junkyard. It’s a collection of trash and debris,” Kazlauskas said.

Haggag tried to subpoena Mark Stewart, another lawyer for Eckert Seamans, to testify for the defense, but the subpoena was quashed, with Judy noting that the subpoena hadn’t been properly served.

In a text message, Haggag said he wanted Stewart to testify “because he could have been a good witness for my defense that the fines were only an attempt to BUILD A RECORD against us in order to make sure I did not own the property anymore and they could put it in the hands of the conservancy. I wanted to question his motives.”

Haggag said the township waited for the trash to accumulate so that he could be fined.

He said the township had requested an appraisal of the property to apply for a block grant to purchase the diner in 2014, but never followed up on it.

He said he sent an email to the township, asking them to buy him out.

In a text Thursday, he clarified that Burkhart had approached him regarding a buyout and requested the appraisal.

Haggag called the plans of a buyout a “bogus lie,” and after which he emailed Burkhart and township manager Steve Letavic to ask them to apply for a grant to purchase the property in 2019, but never heard anything back.

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.

Diamond noted that Haggag has filed for bankruptcy in two courts and he was delinquent on his mortgages and real estate taxes.

What’s wrong with being broke? Haggag responded.

His wife, Helen Haggag, wrote in a letter to the editor that after a fire gutted the diner in 2003, it was renovated and re-opened three times.

Haggag said when he tried to clean the property, someone called the police, and another person called him a racial slur. He said he gets depressed when he comes into town.

“It’s terrible because of the township,” Haggag said, adding that he can’t get a permit to use the property and he would be required to add features such as sidewalks. “It’s in bankruptcy because of you.”