Agreement reach for demolition of downtown eyesore buildings

Published 9:41 am Friday, August 18, 2017

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By Fred Guarino

The Lowndes Signal

The Fort Deposit Town Council and the Fort Deposit Arts Council have reached an agreement to eliminate eyesore buildings in downtown Fort Deposit.

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A representative of the Fort Department Arts Council (in this matter only) and property owners present reached an agreement with the Town Council at Monday night’s regular Town Council meeting.

Charles Goodwin, who representative of the arts council in this matter only, explained, “We agreed to take our buildings down. And in order to do so, we had to have — with the common walls of the buildings, you can’t take one without risking damage to the other property owners’ buildings — In order to do ours, we had to get a release to hold us harmless.”

According to Goodwin the subject buildings would be taken down from an alley to the corner with the exception of a drug store, “If it is deemed that it can be saved, since it is not an eyesore.”

He said,” We offered, if they (other property owners) would give us the release, that we would take theirs downs… in exchange for releasing us of any liability.”

Goodwin said the process has begun to get the release documents signed.

The Town Council heard the offer from the Fort Deposit Arts Council representative and went into executive session. After returning from executive session, Fort Deposit Attorney Arlene M. Richardson said the Town Council decided to give the parties 120 days to clean up the site of the buildings, exempting weather delays. She said the town will close the road around the properties. However, she said, the property owners will need to erect warning signs about the deconstruction, as well as caution tape.

She said the Town Council is also willing to drop the fines that would have been imposed, “But they want each property owner to pay $500 per property owner to cover some of the cost of this whole thing.”

Richardson said she would ask Circuit Judge Terry Bozeman Lovell to put the pending case against the property owners on the “administrative docket” which she said means “It will be in limbo until the work is complete and fines are paid (the $500) and then we will dismiss the case.”

Appearing before the Town Council Monday night were Pam Barganier, Bobby Smith, Goodwin and Sandra Robinson.

Prior to Monday night’s agreement the town of Fort Deposit had been seeking a restraining order and fines against the Fort Deposit Arts Council and property owners regarding the condition of certain downtown buildings.

A hearing on the matter had been set for July 28, but was continued to Aug. 30th to allow the defendants to report findings and present a plan of action, as was the case at Monday night’s council meeting.

While the civil action sought by the Town Council will now be placed in limbo, according to Richardson, until the demolition work is complete and the $500 fines are paid, the following is a recap of the civil action that was filed:

The Town of Fort Deposit sought a restraining order and finds against the Fort Deposit Arts Council and property owners Christopher and Sandra Robinson, Cornelius and Vanessa Thomas and Linda Hale. Fort Deposit attorney Arlene M. Richardson said the civil action 45-CV-2017-900035.00 was filed based upon “numerous complaints” from citizens.

According to a copy of the complaint, the town of Fort Deposit, represented by Richardson, unless the court “grants an order restraining defendants from refusing to remove the buildings and debris, correct the nuisance and/or make their properties safe, it will cause immediate and irreparable to the Town and its citizens.”

In addition, the town of Fort Deposit additionally requests that the court impose a fine in accordance with a town of Fort Deposit Ordinance on each defendant as follows: Fort Deposit Arts Council in the amount of $10,683; Christopher Robinson and Sandra Robinson, jointly and severally, in the amount of $10,240; Cornelius and Vanessa Thomas, jointly and severally, in the amount of $11,230; and Linda Hale, in the amount of $10,630.

According to the complaint, the Arts Council owns certain downtown buildings which were described; defendants,’ Christopher Robinson and Sandra Robinson, residents of Lowndes County, jointly own the property known as Mr. Robinson’s old Barber Shop; defendants,’ Cornelius Thomas and Vanessa Thomas, residents of Lowndes County, jointly own property located in downtown Fort Deposit known as the old store; and defendant Linda Hale, a resident of Montgomery County, owns property located in downtown Fort Deposit, known as the second building from the corner of Rogers and Pollard Street.

The complaint states, “Each of the buildings on defendants’ property has a common wall between them. One property cannot be cleaned without jeopardizing the integrity of the common walls.”

By way of timeline, according to the complaint, the town of Fort Deposit notified the defendants in March of 2014 that the properties had become a nuisance as defined by the ordinances of the town.

The town sent another letter in Nov. 2016 informing the defendants to clean and abate the nuisance on their properties and the amount of fines accrued since they failed to correct the nuisance.

And, “Since receiving the letters in 2014, the defendant’s property has become such a hazard that it may cause loss of life to persons who venture on or near the premises. The brick walls of the buildings are crumbling, the roofs have caved in, the floors have caved in exposing deep basements, there is debris, glass and other hazardous items scattered around the buildings and sidewalks.”

The complaint “prays that this court will issue an injunction enjoining the defendants jointly and severally to clean, remove debris and otherwise abate the nuisance on the properties subject to this action. Plaintiff further prays that upon a final hearing of this cause, the court will grant unto the plaintiff such other, further or different relief as may be just and proper in the premises, and costs.”