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230 Diner owner, wife say Londonderry officials trying to force them out

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 7/10/19

The wife of the owner of the former 230 Diner told the Press & Journal that Londonderry Township officials have been trying to push her husband to get rid of the property on East Harrisburg Pike …

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230 Diner owner, wife say Londonderry officials trying to force them out

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The wife of the owner of the former 230 Diner told the Press & Journal that Londonderry Township officials have been trying to push her husband to get rid of the property on East Harrisburg Pike for years.

In late May, the township filed five citations against Essam Haggag, of Cleona, for property issues — a vacant structure and land not maintained clean and sanitary; unsanitary conditions; overhangs not properly anchored and incapable of supporting loads; roof defects with inadequate drainage; and the siding and masonry joints between the building, windows and doors not maintained water tight.

“We were, I believe, intentionally discouraged in every way possible, and unfortunately are now between a rock and a hard place, and still the township wants only to harm us consistently assuring themselves that we have no chance of returning,” wrote Helen Haggag in a letter to the editor.

The township is requesting $5,000 in fines plus costs. Essam is expected to go before District Judge David H. Judy for a summary trial on Aug. 7.

Helen Haggag declined to answer any additional questions.

“We do, however, apologize to the townspeople for losing out on what could have been a place of business that would have been an asset to the community in so many ways. Instead, it has become nothing more than a blight that frankly has put our family through hell,” she said in the letter to the Press & Journal.

Township staff did not respond to a request for comment.

Haggag said her husband has owned the property since 1999. Records filed with Dauphin County indicate that the deed was transferred to him for $70,000 in 2004 from Snodo Inc., which acquired the deed in 1999 from PNC Bank.

Haggag said her husband restored the property in 2000 and the township has been trying to rid him of it since.

“We as a family had all good intentions of creating a business that would employ many townspeople and provide the community with a diner they could be proud of as well as earn an income to support his family like any hardworking immigrant looking to fulfill his dreams in America as well as his desire to contribute where he was able,” she said.

A fire gutted the diner in 2003, but Haggag said it was renovated and opened three times since then. Press & Journal articles reported that repairs were being made inside and outside the former restaurant in 2007.

In 2009, there were plans to lease the building to a Lancaster man who wanted to open it as Don’s Diner.

Haggag said that after a flood in 2011, “We were entangled in a drawn-out court battle to recoup finances on an insurance policy. Ever since, we were consistently denied a permit to do business of any kind for every reason under the sun.”

She said township codes and zoning officer Jeff Burkhart was right when he said they may have gone bankrupt, and they were paying back a Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan, “as a result of the realization that we would never be permitted to utilize the property in any way at all.”

Over the past several months, township staff and supervisors have expressed concern over the state of the property, including people using it as dumping site.

In November, Supervisor Ron Kopp said he saw cars parked behind the building when he worked in nearby fields.

During the July 1 meeting, Burkhart told the supervisors that the summary trial was delayed from July 17 to August, which Supervisor Bart Shellenhamer said may have been because Essam Haggag started to clean up the property.

“Well, he did start to clean it up. He basically, from what I can tell, started to rearrange it. I think all the stuff you can see is now behind the building,” Burkhart said.

Essam Haggag was cited in 2014 for the structure needing repair, structural members and defacement of the property, but the charges were later withdrawn. However, 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.

Haggag said when they attempted to correct the violations, stop-work notices would be put on the door.

Haggag said the reason the property has been vacant since 2014 is because Burkhart told them that if they obtained a property appraisal, “he would be willing to apply for a block grant to buy out the property.”

“We are still waiting until this day to receive any consistent reason or outcome of his proposal,” Haggag said.