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Local leaders may step in to resolve Crystal Restaurant eviction

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WATERTOWN — Like many other local residents, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham hopes the owners of the Crystal Restaurant and their landlord can work things out to avert the eviction of the Public Square institution.

That’s why the mayor has asked the Watertown Local Development Corp. to intervene and see if something can be done to resolve the situation. Donald W. Rutherford, CEO of the WLDC, also known as the Watertown Trust, plans to talk with co-owner Peter J. Dephtereos about the situation.

“It’s an important landmark,” the mayor said. “It needs to be preserved.”

Last month, landlord Ricky Frazier notified the Dephtereoses that they were being evicted at the end of this month. Mr. Frazier said he was forced to evict them because they failed to sign a lease for the 1,700-square-foot restaurant.

Mr. Rutherford has agreed to talk to the family to see what, if anything, the Watertown Trust can do to help. However, he did not think it was his place to mediate the disagreement between the two sides.

The eviction notice surprised the Dephtereos family because the popular restaurant has operated at that location for 89 years. Since the news broke last week, business has picked up noticeably, with the community coming out in overwhelming support for his family, he said. The family also hopes to talk to Mr. Frazier about the situation to see if it can be worked out.

Mr. Frazier purchased the building at 85-87 Public Square in January 2013 for $125,000 from Public Square Properties LLC, a Long Island corporation, after the Dephtereoses had hoped to acquire it.

After that purchase, the Dephtereoses tried to buy the building from Mr. Frazier, but he refused to sell, Mr. Dephtereos said Wednesday. And now it is more difficult to acquire the building from him because the city has a lien against the property, he said.

Mr. Dephtereos, a third-generation restaurateur, said he believes the issue has become entangled with Mr. Frazier’s legal trouble with the city. The matter involves a $72,926.94 judgment against the landlord for failing to pay the cleanup costs on a High Street apartment building destroyed by fire in May 2012.

The apartment building he owned at 239 High St. was torched by an arsonist. The city demolished it and charged Mr. Frazier for the cost of the work. Mr. Frazier never paid, and the city took legal action against him.

Mr. Dephtereos said the eviction notice came just two weeks after the state Supreme Court instructed the couple to send their rent checks to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department to help pay off the judgment.

Mr. Frazier has denied that the eviction is linked to his dispute with the city.

Several other judgments against Mr. Frazier are listed with the Jefferson County clerk’s office, including the largest at $102,668 with Rochester Linoleum and Carpet Center from 2009. None has been paid, said Christina A. Stone, the city attorney who handled the lien case.

Mr. Frazier also still owes $83,000 to a Long Island company on the building’s mortgage, according to records in the clerk’s office. The two sides agreed on the mortgage transaction because Mr. Frazier could not arrange for a bank loan, according to the documents.

With the mortgage and judgment against the building, Mr. Frazier most likely is not in a position to sell it at this time, Ms. Stone said.

He also owes more than $3,000 in back city, school and county taxes on the building, according to City Comptroller James E. Mills. Last June, Mr. Dephtereos acquired the building’s tax sale certificate after paying $749.68 to the city. If Mr. Frazier fails to pay the taxes by next June, Mr. Dephtereos can redeem the deed and take title of the property.

It is common practice for tenants to protect their interest by acquiring a tax sale certificate on a property when the owner is delinquent on their taxes, city officials said.

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