Other buildings may also be in violation of 1884 ordinance
Brock Baker met with Peabody City Council members Monday night to discuss the council’s previous decision to make Baker rebuild the firewalls that were originally installed between the buildings he owns on the west side of Walnut Street.
During his tenure as owner of Baker Furniture and Carpet, Baker and his wife, Sheryl, bought buildings that adjoined his store and converted them to furniture and carpet showrooms. To accommodate his business, Baker opened areas of the walls between buildings to allow customers to move from one building to another. He moved his 112-year-old business to Newton this past summer and the buildings now are empty except for an office area he maintains.
City ordinance requires that open traffic ways between the buildings be sealed either permanently according to code or with fire doors that lock if the building temperature rises due to fire.
Baker asked the council to wait just one year before enforcing the ordinance.
“Expense is not the issue,” he said. “I had a contractor come and look at the buildings and he thinks he can do it for a reasonable price.
“What concerns me is that once those walls are replaced, they will serve as a deterrent for prospective buyers. The best scenario for us would be to sell all the buildings to one buyer,” he said. “I know in my heart that someone somewhere wants these buildings. We are listing the property with a worldwide real estate company. We hope they can find someone who will put in a business that will be good for Peabody.”
Baker said he thinks sealing up the passageways would only serve as a “deal breaker” for someone who might be interested in buying all the buildings.
Councilman Steve Rose cited concerns of the local fire department.
“The problem is that if a fire started in one of the buildings, it would be like a fire box all the way through all of them,” he said. “We can’t fight a fire like that. It is too dangerous and we won’t put one of our men in that position. So your buildings will burn and we will only be able to try to save adjoining properties.”
Councilman Tom Schmidt added that the council’s hands are tied.
“Since we know the ordinance exists and you are in violation, we cannot ignore the situation,” Schmidt said. “The buildings are mostly vacant and you don’t have the presence there you once did and the chance of something happening increases when a property is empty.”
Becky Kyle, a Baker employee, told the council that there are many people coming and going from the buildings on a daily basis.
“Brock goes in to his office every day, the carpet layers are in there every morning, and a couple of other employees are in and out all the time,” she said. “It’s not like the place is locked up and no one is ever there.”
Kyle also mentioned that other buildings in the downtown area such as the American Legion building, the Peabody Senior Center, and beauty shop/coin laundry buildings are also in violation because they are composed of more than one building with firewall violations.
After about an hour of discussion, the council instructed City Administrator Mac Manning to draft a letter giving Baker until March 15 to hire a contractor and create a plan of compliance with the city ordinance. He must also get a building permit to replace the firewalls according to code.
Once the plan is in place, council members will meet with the contractor and establish a timeline for completion of the work.
Council members also agreed to look at the other downtown buildings that might be in violation of the ordinance drafted by the Peabody City Council following the fire of 1884.
In other business:
- The council approved market adjustments and cost-of-living increases of $.25 per hour for regular full-time employees and $.10 per hour for part-time employees, not including seasonal employees. A market adjustment of $1 per hour was given to each of the two new full-time patrol officers. The increases are retroactive to the first pay period for 2010. Council member Pam Lamborn voted against the measure.
- Manning reported Knudson and Monroe completed the annual audit, with a full report to be presented in March.
- Manning reported on a water meeting that included Mayor Larsen, Manning, Darren Pickens, Ronnie Harms, Morgan Marler of Hillsboro water plant, and Pat McCool of Kansas Rural Water Association. The stagnant water problems in Peabody’s system were reviewed and a plan of action created. Automatic flushing hydrants will be installed to keep water moving in areas like the southeast corner of town where demand is low and water stagnates in the pipes.
- Manning also noted that additional testing is needed on water samples. It will cost the city about $2,000 a year to have the testing done at a private laboratory.
- Shane Marler gave a report for Peabody Main Street and Peabody Economic Development. Marler said that all but $7,000 of the Main Street loan pool has been loaned for building and business improvements. The loan pool is a $30,000 account from the state that is used to make interest-free loans. State Main Street officials encourage local groups to keep as much of the fund working for downtown businesses as possible. The current distribution of funds is the largest in Peabody’s Main Street history.
- Marler said the agreement with Pixius is being reviewed by attorneys and the company will be ready soon to begin serving Peabody. He also told council members he is assisting with a grant application for additional weapons for law enforcement officers.
- Both Main Street and economic development committee have set goals for the coming year.
- Mayor Larry Larsen reported the three new defibrillators are on their way to Peabody. The Peabody Association of Churches facilitated the purchase. The Peabody Emergency Medical staff will arrange for training to use the equipment.
- Jim Rippe asked the council to review the stop and yield signs at the north end of Plum Street where it intersects Eighth Street and the Union Pacific Railroad track. Rippe feels the current signs are confusing to motorists.