The owner of a Manhattan property that was significantly flooded in 2018 has just under 3 months to address health and safety issues identified by code services. If he doesn’t by December 1, the city can demolish it.
The L-shaped shopping center at 3003 Anderson Avenue in Plaza West that formerly housed restaurants like La Hacienda and Golden Wok Buffet was inundated by an estimated 7 feet of water in the Labor Day flood of Wildcat Creek. Manhattan code officials say little progress has been made to clean and repair the premises, noting they found mold and rotten food still inside among damage to walls, windows and doors.
Deputy Building Official Darren Emery told City Commissioners in July the owner, Mark Samarrai, hadn’t replied to multiple letters and notices to repair. He attended Tuesday’s meeting and says work slowed and stalled due to cost, a serious hospital stint and difficulty finding labor — but that he’ll do whatever it takes to clean the property.
“It’s that stupid food that nobody wants to remove,” says Samarrai. “Everybody avoids doing that because of all the flies and the stench.”
He says his restaurant tenants refused to clean up the food caused by the flood, leaving him with the mess. According to Samarrai, they also took the keys and he’s had difficulty getting a locksmith to come to the property. He told commissioners some work was occurring recently until the building was condemned, when he then stopped directing workers into the building.
“I don’t like it being like that, it’s embarrassing to me,” says Samarrai. “I can’t change people breaking into the building, all I can do is start at one end [and move down].”
He says money is tight, and the necessary repairs aren’t cheap — adding that he was told he couldn’t get flood insurance. While Samarrai plans to fulfill the order and address safety and health concerns, he stopped short of saying he’ll re-open the property. To reoccupy the building, floodplain regulations require the property — since it had been significantly damaged — be raised or one foot above the floodplain level or flood-proofed to provide a similar level of protection. Where the building stands, that would be a rise of 8.5 feet according to calculations by Assistant Community Development Director Chad Bunger.
“How I can raise my building 9 feet in the air, I challenge each one of you or anyone in this room to raise their building 9 feet,” says Samarrai. “And then say, oh, you got to pay taxes.”
He says he doesn’t blame the city for the flood, though did question development along the watershed and says he was told he could not work on the railroad track that acts as a sort of levee in an effort to improve flood protection.
Mayor Pro Tempore Usha Reddi says she was glad Samarrai attended the meeting after their attempts to contact him, adding that the set deadline is a firm deadline. Commissioner Linda Morse echoed that as well.
“I just want to be sure we’re communicating clearly to [Samarrai] also.”
Commissioner Jerred McKee supported the December deadline — multiple months longer than required by law — but questioned whether treating them differently than other properties sets a bad precedent.
“While it was a devastating impact, we still have a standard and a sense of fairness we have to meet,” says McKee. “Because you weren’t the only building impacted, but all of those other buildings are clean and operating currently.”
Commissioner Wynn Butler says the long-term plans for the building aren’t their concern and that they can revisit a discussion on a long-term plan for the building after the code office’s requirements are met.