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Springdale sees increase in number of razed buildings

November 26, 2018

SPRINGDALE, Ark. (AP) — A large white house stands abandoned at the corner of Lowell Road and Sanders Avenue with blue tarps on the roof, a sagging front door and a rusted railing bearing the letter S. Brick homes surround what once was the heart of a farm.

Springdale officials plan to tear down the house, built in the early 1900s, before it falls down.

Mike Chamlee, the city’s chief building official, spoke before the City Council in September, asking for more money in his department’s budget to pay contracts for such demolition projects.

The number of buildings razed by the city this year outpaced money. The 2018 budget provided $10,000 to hire contract labor. The costs so far this year are $30,425. The city has taken down four buildings this year, with two more scheduled, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

The council approved adding $60,000 to the Building Department’s budget to come from the city’s franchise tax revenue, which has exceeded predictions this year. Chamlee also noted the line item request in the 2019 budget will reflect the increase.

Most properties cost about $10,000 to take down, but the Lowell Road property will cost closer to $23,000, as it also includes a guest house, a garage and a vintage chicken house, said Tom Evers, the city’s chief building inspector.

“We had kind of the perfect storm this year,” Chamlee said. Evers has worked two or three years to meet the legalities for tearing down three of the four structures already removed. “These things never happen overnight,” he added.

“I first noticed the tarps on the roof,” said Evers on a recent tour of the farmhouse property.

He spied them as he drove by and knew he needed to check the house’s condition. “Look at the sagging porch.”

Evers said other tips come from the city’s code enforcement officers and three other building inspectors.

“I’ve never even been inside,” Evers said at the farmhouse. “I heard the floors are rotten and caving in.”

Evers said he never ventures into a structure’s interior. He doesn’t want to get hurt, and he can spot structural deficiencies from the outside. If he determines the property should be condemned, he posts a notice of condemnation and the list of needed repairs on the door of the property. He also sends a letter with the list of deficiencies through certified mail to the property owner registered with the county.

The city asks repairs be made in 30 days before inspecting again. If the city gets no response from the property owner, the city attorney’s office sends a certified letter.

The owners of many of these homes have died, and the search for heirs can take years, Evers said. Often the heirs also have died, are numerous, live out of state or don’t care about the property, he said.

When all avenues are exhausted, Evers presents the City Council with his documentation, including pictures, and asks for approval to take the structure down. The law requires a 30-day waiting period before demolition.

The companies hired to raze the buildings must remove all structures and debris on the property, cap sewer lines and remove septic tanks, pull out all concrete footings and sod the lot, Evers said. The city then keeps the lot mowed.

If the city takes the financial responsibility of removing a structure, it places a lien on the property for the amount of the demolition and the mowing. The lien amount will be taken from the owner’s sales price when the property is sold.

Many times the note of condemnation spurs renewal. Evers pointed to the Apollo Theater on Emma Avenue and the original Tyson Foods building.

The Apollo was built in 1949 as a downtown movie theater and fell into disrepair. Tom Lundstrum and Brian Moore purchased the building and work restoring the structure began in August 2016. It now operates as an event center.

Tyson reconstructed and modernized two buildings down from the Apollo into a 56,106-square-foot office. The new building at 319 E. Emma Ave. includes the footprints — marked by the original brick walls — of the first offices of the Tyson feed and hatchery and the Springdale Electric Hatchery owned by Jeff Brown.

“They all can be saved if you’re willing to pay the money to fix it,” Evers said. He estimated $100,000 would be necessary to make the farmhouse livable.

Evers said he refers many homeowners to the Community Development Block Grant program administered by the city’s Planning Department, which can provide money to rehabilitate homes.

If a property owner wants to save his structure, Evers and the building department will give him a chance — often extending deadlines.

“Even if the City Council has given its approval to tear it down, I will still work with you in those 30 days,” Evers said. “If you can show me you are making progress, I’ll work with you.”

If demolition is the conclusion, he allows the property owners time to remove personal items from the structure.

“We don’t want to be in the business of tearing down houses,” Chamlee said.

“There are several reasons we take them down,” Chamlee said of condemned structures. “First is for the safety of the citizens.”

Abandoned structures draw people from teenagers causing innocent mischief, to the homeless, to someone who wants to set up a meth lab, he said. The buildings also are prone to catch fire, perhaps from someone simply trying to get warm or someone with the intent to damage.

The city demolished two buildings this year on Ewalt Avenue across the street from Jones Elementary School. The owner had died, and heirs lived out of state.

“There was always activity at one house,” said Melissa Fink, Jones principal. “We had to call the police a lot.”

Some of her students played in the house, and pornographic material was hidden in the garage. The other house had burned. She worked with the fire and building departments to get the buildings razed.

“I was always worried that a child was going to get in there to play and wasn’t going to be safe,” she said.

Mary Poorker lives two doors down from an abandoned, dilapidated house the city demolished on Daline Street. The brick homes there were built in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

“When I first moved here 10 or 11 years ago, there was a tarp on the roof of the house. They told me the man had died. The house just sat empty and went down. It just looked bad for the neighborhood,” she said. “It makes all the houses up and down here look like less.”

Poorker had her home’s value assessed a few years ago, and it reflected less than what she paid. She said she thought it was because of the old house.

“People usually don’t want to live next to a dilapidated house,” Chamlee said. “It can affect their economic value, but also attract vermin such as snakes, rats and mice.

“Daline is a very established neighborhood. We wanted to protect the people.”

Kim Gookin, a Realtor with Lindsey & Associates, said home prices could be affected by an unsightly home on the block, depending on the neighborhood. It also depends on the buyer and the house. For example, a buyer might be able to overlook a problem in a historic neighborhood.

Evers turned his focus on Springdale’s dilapidated buildings about 10 years ago and made an effort to get them restored or removed. He has worked to raze all types of dilapidated buildings in all four corners of town, he said.

Chamlee said the city took down two structures in 2004, but none nine years later in 2013. The totals continued at one or two a year. The city demolished two last year.

Most cities in Arkansas pull down one or two structures a year, said John Wilkerson, general counsel for the Arkansas Municipal League. In 12 years, League officials have not seen an uptick in the numbers, he added.

The city is on track to pay for the demolition of six buildings this year, but many others are torn down by their owners.

Many are demolished to make way for growth, Chamlee said.

“We sold 31 demolition permits this year,” he said. “A lot, the city never gets involved.”


Information from: Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.nwaonline.com

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