The owner of a high-rise apartment complex is seeking more than $5 million in damages from Abington Township, alleging that its fire marshal is maliciously stonewalling efforts to renovate the building and attract new tenants.
Lawsuits filed April 20 in state and federal court mark an escalation in the years-long battle over the Colonade, a 535-unit complex on Old York Road where residents have complained about infestations, broken heaters, water leaks, and faulty fire alarms. In 2012, the township cited the owner for nearly 200 code violations.
The owner, Boston-based Metropolitan Properties of America (MPA), says it is trying to renovate the aging Colonade but has been stymied for more than a year by "improper demands" that it also upgrade the fire-alarm system.
Michael P. Clarke, the township's solicitor, said MPA was being asked to meet code requirements "the same as any other similarly situated property owner in the township."
"Everyone connected to the township is just trying to make sure this is a safe building," he said.
The suits allege that Abington breached a November 2014 legal agreement and violated MPA's rights of due process and equal protection. In addition to $5 million in damages, the firm requests reimbursement for substantial attorneys' fees "incurred throughout its dispute with the township."
Clarke said he hoped the suits would be thrown out but will "vigorously defend . . . if this ends up in a courtroom."
Occupancy at the Colonade had been dwindling in recent years, and as of late August the building had about 200 residents. In September, MPA said the building would be vacated during construction but reversed that decision a month later. Only a few residents remain, Clarke said.
The renovation plans, outlined in documents attached to the state suit, include adding or replacing outdated appliances, upgrading hallways and common areas, creating a new courtyard and amenities building, and converting 70,000 square feet of ground-level commercial space into 54 apartments.
As part of the November settlement, the company also agreed to some fire-system improvements that it said exceed code requirements.
Township officials have consistently disputed the company's interpretation of the fire code, including an analysis by MPA's architect, Steven Kline, who is also a township commissioner and a member of the Montgomery County Planning Commission.