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City OKs razing three buildings, spares others

Tom Joyce Staff Reporter

December 20, 2013

Mount Airy officials voted Thursday night to have three dilapidated and unoccupied structures in the city demolished — but similar to the buildings themselves, the process wasn’t neat or tidy.


The sites that soon will be visited by wrecking crews were three of a total of six slated for demolition decisions Thursday, with such action on the remaining three not taken for various reasons.


And even the votes on the three structures that will be torn down — located at 2128 N. Main St., 718 Factory St. and 710 Worth St. — were 3-1 decisions in which Commissioner Jon Cawley cast the “no” vote in each case (with Commissioner Scott Graham absent).


“I’ll have to vote against the city paying to demolish them,” Cawley explained regarding the $34,750 earmarked for that purpose. “I am not against them being demolished.”


Yet Cawley also offered some philosophical opposition to the moves.


His stance reflects the possibility that owners of the unsightly structures simply are unable financially to bring them up to code, in an era when city government has been concerned for “a certain segment of our population that’s hurting,” Cawley said.


“People in this economic time have a pretty good idea of what they’re able to accomplish and what they can’t,” he added. “We just don’t know all their situations.”


Action Seen As Needed

However, those in the majority believe demolitions are in order for the properties that have been posted as unsafe for occupancy.


“When visitors come to Mount Airy, we don’t want to look like downtown Detroit,” Commissioner Dean Brown said. “We don’t want our city to become the slums that some people are moving out of.”


Fellow board member Steve Yokeley agreed. “I’m very much in favor of demolishing them,” he said of the former residences that are rundown and located on unsightly lots in most of the cases.


“I certainly wouldn’t want to live beside some of these properties,” Yokeley said. “I don’t know how the neighbors have stood it as long as they have.”


Andy Goodall, a member of the municipal planning department who briefed the commissioners on each structure, called the one on Factory Street “probably the worst of all.”


In addition to the demolition, Yokeley said he supported tax foreclosures, or forced sales, being undertaken for at least some of the sites, on which property taxes are owed, to recoup the demolition costs. Based on a precedent set when two other structures, at 335 Price St. and 2046 Dyson Place, were torn down last year, the city already obtains liens on the land, which means the money for demolition would be recovered if it is sold.


The move to better enforce regulations against substandard housing has been a city government goal for codes enforcement personnel in recent years, with Thursday’s action bringing the total structures approved for demolition to five. More are expected to be presented for similar action in February, based on the discussion.


Reprieves Granted

The three other properties targeted for demolitions which officials voted to postponed Thursday night are located at 418 Snowhill Drive, in the 500-600 block of Cross Creek Drive and a building at the rear of property at 137 Taylor St.


They were told that the owner of the Snowhill Drive site is making progress on the removal of two dilapidated mobile homes in question, which has involved an investment of time and money on his part. Board members agreed to give him more time to correct the problem on his own.


Officials also voted to postpone the razing of the structure in the Cross Creek Drive area indefinitely, citing reasons including the fact that it is in such a boxed-in location a wrecking crew would have to develop a driveway in order to gain access. Board members said they were concerned about trees being cut and otherwise infringing on the rights of neighboring property owners.


In the case involving the building to the rear of property at 137 Taylor St., officials agreed not to demolish the former garage apartment involved. This was after being told by Steve May of the city planning department that the owner, who lives nearby, had expressed a desire to obtain estimates to remove or upgrade it on his own, but has not done so — presumably for financial reasons.


Commissioners Brown and Yokeley voted to have it torn down, but Cawley and Commissioner Shirley Brinkley, who had sided with Brown and Yokeley on the other decisions, were opposed. That left Mayor Deborah Cochran to break the tie. “I’m going to have to vote ‘no’ as well,” she said.


Meanwhile, officials decided to leave intact the $34,750 budget amendment proposed to cover tearing down the structures, even though work at the three properties omitted from the list formed part of that total. This was done at the suggestion of Finance Director John Overton, who said the leftover funds could be applied toward other demolitions expected to come before the board in early 2014.


Cawley, however, seemed miffed at the entire procedure.


“In my opinion, we have sent a mixed message to those who are unable to do something,” he said of correcting problem properties. “There is a litany here that goes against individual freedom.”


But while he disagreed with it, Cawley told the audience Thursday night that he would respect the majority opinion of the board.


Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or tjoyce@civitasmedia.com.