$36.25M settlement in Conshohocken fire

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October 7, 2009 3:42:44 PM PDT
Hundreds of renters left homeless by a massive fire that destroyed their apartment complex will receive about $40,000 on average from a legal settlement announced Wednesday.

The August 2008 blaze destroyed 188 units in two buildings at the Riverwalk at Millennium complex in Conshohocken, near Philadelphia, and much of an adjacent apartment complex being built.

Sparks from a welding torch at the adjacent construction site ignited the blaze.

The renters will share $9 million of the $36.2 million settlement. The rest will go toward the cost of rebuilding two destroyed apartment buildings.

Dr. Irwin Becker and his wife of 50 years lost a lifetime of irreplaceable keepsakes, including his wedding band, her engagement ring and a Jewish prayer shawl passed down from his grandfather. Becker had worn it to synagogue on religious holidays for 60 years.

"This year, I went to the closet, and it wasn't there," said Becker, 73, who now lives in nearby King of Prussia. "It's so hurtful."

The Riverwalk project boasts loft-style apartments constructed on once-blighted property near the Schuylkill River.

Developer J. Brian O'Neill built the complex in 2002, but sold it to JP Morgan Chase and others in 2005, plaintiffs lawyer Pat Howard said. The tenant lawsuits charged that his company, O'Neill Properties Group, skimped on fire-protection measures such as attic sprinklers.

O'Neill was also building the adjacent complex, The Stables at Millennium, where the blaze started. He puts the losses to that project at more than $70 million, according to his lawyer, Julie Negovan.

O'Neill's company and a subsidiary, Merion Construction, contributed to the settlement along with Cavan Construction and Lynch 2 Inc., a subcontractor.

Most of the tenants also had renters insurance. Their legal awards will vary according to their losses and insurance payments.


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