Former restaurant building in downtown Sunbury sold

The Sunbury Police Department headquarters on Market Street in Sunbury, left, is next door to to the former Varias Restaurant building, which was recently sold at a county sheriff sale.

SUNBURY — The lone condemned building in Sunbury is back on the tax rolls after the structure was sold during a March 26 Northumberland County sheriff sale.

Varias Restaurant, located at 444-446 Market St., sold for $12,000 to Catherina Kurver, of Sunbury.

Kurver also purchased 514-516 Market St., which houses the Gentleman’s Barbershop. That structure was the highest bid at the sale at $56,000.

Kurver could not be reached for comment but city officials said they are pleased to see the former Varias building sold, although it is still condemned.

“We are all happy to see someone wanting to do something with that building and investing in our downtown,” City Councilman Chris Reis, who is in charge of the code department, said. However, there is substantial work that will have to be done in there to bring that up to code.”

Reis said he is looking forward to meeting with Kurver.

“We want to work with the new owner to hear the plans for the building as it is still condemned so we will need to meet with the owner to get a plan in place as soon as possible.”

The building, which is also on the public nuisance list, went up for auction in March 2018, but no one offered a bid. It still sits empty next door to Sunbury’s Police Department, which will also be vacant this time next year after City Council voted to move the department to 337 Arch St. 

The former listed owner of the Varias building was Mary/Antonia Varias. The property was last purchased Aug. 1, 1996.

The building was condemned by the city code office on Dec. 5, 2016. 

According to city documents, the building has structural failures of a first-floor joist and support beams, plus decaying lumber in a crawl space.

The Sunbury Redevelopment Authority has been watching the property for quite some time. 

Sunbury’s attack on blight began in 2011 with former Mayor David Persing. He revamped the Sunbury Housing Authority and encouraged the group to actively go after blighted properties.

Persing met with Authority Chairman Adam Purdy and the two developed a plan of action. Since 2009, more than 100 properties have come on and off the nuisance list, according to city officials. More than 50 vacant, abandoned and blighted properties were acquired and sold through the eminent domain process.

“This is good for the city,” Purdy said. “We hope the new owner has a plan and I look forward to seeing what they can do with the property.

Sunbury Redevelopment Authority solicitor Brianna Apfelbaum Kula agreed with Purdy and said even though the structure does not technically fall under the redevelopment authority, the new owner will still have to follow the code department guidelines.

“The important thing is that everyone works together,” Apfelbaum Kula said.

“What’s really cool is the building gets put back into circulation. It will remain on the public nuisance list and I recommend the property owner contact the code office and build up a plan.

There have been so many different ideas and opportunities being discussed on helping the downtown so communication is much needed.” 

Prior to Varias being sold, former City Administrator Jody Ocker said she was searching for grant money to tear down the building along with the neighboring police station, which is deteriorating. 

“I saw it had been sold and it is an interesting development,” she said. “It will be positive for the downtown.

I was under the understanding that it was beyond repair so I don’t know what the plan is, tearing down and building new or what, but it is back on the tax rolls.”

Ocker said the new owner now has a year to bring it up to code.

“My hope is a good plan is in place and it will benefit the downtown,” she said.

Code officials have not been inside the structure because, by law, they were not permitted inside.

The code department at the time could not inspect commercial properties that do not also have residential living quarters, but since that time the city has now passed an ordinance saying code officers will be allowed to enter.

The soon-to-be-former police department building next door to the Varias property is also a topic that City Council will be discussing once the department moves to Arch Street.

City officials have said at this point they don’t have any plans, but will be working toward a decision of either demolishing it, or holding on to hopes that an investor will buy it and transform the property into a downtown business.

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