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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

How About Condemnation for Repair?

Here's the sort of neighborhood stabilization issue that you probably won't hear being discussed by any mayoral candidates. Above is the corner storefront at 2001 S. Jefferson (at Allen) in Fox Park. Built in 1892, the two-story building is a contributing resource to the Compton Hill Certified Local Historic District, and anchors the first solid corner of Fox Park on Jefferson south of I-44.

Believe it or not, this building has been condemned for demolition by the Building Division! (Of course, the New Vision Demolition banner on the front takes some of the surprise out.) In June 2007, the Building Division issued a condemnation for demolition order. Why? Take a look.

This is definitely not a good situation here, but it is hardly grounds for demolition. This building has that great detail found on some of the city's neighborhood commercial buildings: the wall extends to shield the end of a multi-story gallery porch at the rear that provides access to residential flats above.

Obviously, the porch collapsed. Permit records show that a permit to replace the "rear deck" was issued on April 2, 2007. Obviously, the owners failed to replace the porch and left the building in terrible shape. The Building Division was wise to act with condemnation, by why is the order "for demolition"? The Building Division is allowed to condemn buildings "for repair," and in this case should have done so. The loss of the porch caused damage, but not anything that makes the building unsound.

Of course, a condemnation for demolition order could scare a problem property owner to sell. However, that order could also lead to a building's being placed in a city demolition package down the road, no matter if the building truly is unsound under the definitions established in our public safety laws and preservation ordinances. The good thing is that a demolition permit in a local historic district will go to the Cultural Resources Office. In this case, neither owner nor the Building Division has pursued demolition -- for now.

What is then accomplished by this condemnation order? Very little, except creating another threat to this building. Clearly, the order has made no impact on the owners, who have not even removed much of the debris behind the building.

Instead of condemnation for demolition, an order used too often, why not condemn buildings for repair with enforceable deadlines? There is, after all, more than one way to enforce the public safety laws, but the Building Division too often relies on the ineffective, destructive "condemnation for demolition." The Building Division would do well to help neighborhoods stabilize their neighborhoods while preserving valuable buildings. Clearly, demolition contractors would not get as much work but hopefully better-paying construction work would be encouraged.

Whoever is Mayor on April 7 should make changes at the Building Division. At the very least, all demolition decisions should be made by a qualified structural engineer. At the most, there should be a reorientation of code enforcement away from the mindset that the Division should eliminate all that is broken. The Building Division's goal should be fixing all that is broken for the benefit of our citizens, and reserving demolition orders for those cases where public safety is truly threatened.


Anonymous said...

Good point. Does McDonalds want it? Condemnation for demolition also adds the extra hurdle of acquiring stamped architect plans to do any work/receive permit.

brian said...

I'm not sure how this happens and I've been trying to figure it out for a long time. The back of this building is falling off and has been for some time. Who lets the back fall off of a building that could be creating income?! I see nothing being done. Are there fines involved? Are the owners paying them if there are? Who is accountable for this? What happens if they don't fix it?

I have a garage that is in good structural shape but needs a roof and some repairs to the wooden area above the garage door. It looks a little rough, but it's not that bad. The city hasn't missed a beat! Their phone calls, fines and letters have forced me to pull a permit for repair...and there's no money to do it by the way. Yet the garage three up from me is caving in on itself. Hmmmm.... Can someone please answer this question: How are some buildings left to rot while other owners are harassed? I've lived here for ten years and no one has ever been able to answer this directly.

samizdat said...

I don't know why the BD has such a hard-on for demo, but it's kind of suspicious to me. It makes no sense. Especially since you point out that most of the demos don't have any basis from an engineering standpoint. And yes, where are the f***ing owners? And why hasn't the City gone after them? That's the suspicious part. Who are the owners, and do they have any ties to City government? Did they not realise their building was part of a Historic District, and now they just can't pull it down without review? Mighty, mighty fishy.

GMichaud said...

Good idea about condemnation for repair. If they have condemned it there is a danger it will be demolished. There seems to be a preference for the demo of corner buildings, which of course helps anchor the block.
I know the city seems to apply its laws in a random manner. Thus you end up with a situation such as the one Brian is in while numerous landlords and others are allowed to do as they wish.
It is our government, at least in theory.

brian said...

They'll need architect's drawings to do that little bit of work? No wonder it hasn't been done.

Eventually this process becomes a contest between the building owner and the building inspector to see who can piss off the other one more. I've learned to shut my mouth and just do whatever they want. If you question them on their decision next thing you know they'll give you a list of ten more things they want done.

Anonymous said...

Although government is often perceived to rule in a random matter, it is rarely true. Favoritism rules and it is more of a matter of who you know or contributed to that matters. The more you complain the more they will fight back and increase the list of violations. It is the disease which insures the demise.