Wall collapse cleanup still up in the air after Harrisburg codes board ruling

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The City of Harrisburg moved forward Thursday night in an ongoing battle over a retaining wall that collapsed earlier this year.

Attorneys for McFarland apartments on Mulberry Street challenged the city’s condemnation order and directive to clean up the mess. At a special hearing Thursday evening, the Housing Code Board of Appeals upheld the order.

The hearing at City Hall got into the nitty gritty over what a condemnation order means and entails. Consider this just another step in the cleanup process.

There’s still a lot of that process to look forward to.

“We also feel that the broader issue of who’s responsible for this collapse has yet to be determined,” Adam Klein, an attorney for McFarland, said after the hearing.

Klein and the city’s attorney clashed over whether the board should take into account arguments over whose fault the collapse is.

The board sided with the city, saying this hearing was only to decide if the condemnation order was valid, not to assign blame.

“This is just the first step in a long process in this matter,” Klein said.

McFarland has said since the start it’s PennDOT’s fault the wall collapsed because of recent work they commissioned nearby. PennDOT denies it.

In June, following a second collapse at the site, Harrisburg codes officers condemned the eight-unit apartment building closest to the wall and ordered McFarland to clean up.

The company appealed, arguing Thursday the city doesn’t have the evidence to prove the building is unsafe.

The board ruled unanimously the condemnation order stands.

“I feel like a bird tucked up in an eave during a hurricane and I have nowhere to go but stay,” Howard Henry said.

Henry is caught in the middle of all this. His auto shop was partly crushed by the wall and he’s had to close as he tries to relocate.

He’s hopeful Thursday’s decision opens up the way to cleaning up.

“We just don’t have the funds to clean up this project,” Klein said, “Which is going to be a multi-million dollar cleanup.”

“And if I were in their position — and I am, I don’t have the funds either,” Henry said.

McFarland can appeal the board’s decision. Klein said they’ll discuss with the company’s owners in the next day or two whether or not they want to challenge it further.

And then there’s still the issue of who’s fault it is in the first place. Henry hopes this ruling will bring everyone — McFarland, the city, PennDOT — back to the table to talk.

“Let’s just talk,” he said. “And whatever the outcome of that meeting is, is the next step for us.”

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