Florence buildings condemned at public hearing


News editor

Florence Mayor Greg Winn convened a public hearing Monday evening prior to the regularly scheduled city council meeting. The hearing was to determine the status of the two former school buildings on Eighth Street.

Winn addressed the dozen citizens present and asked for comments in favor of or against condemning the buildings.

City superintendent Phil Baldwin told council members the buildings are nearly impossible to keep secure.

"We have it nailed shut pretty tight right now," he said. "But if someone really wanted in, they could get in. The floors are rotten and the building is not stable.

"Someone is going to get hurt. It's a big liability."

Judy Creamer added, "I hate to lose a landmark and I think most people in Florence feel the same way, but if it is dangerous it needs to come down."

Bobbi Strait, zoning administrator for the county encouraged the council to condemn the buildings.

"Condemnation does not mean they have to come down," she said. "They remain the property of the landowner, but you have the right to make them tear the buildings down or fix them.

"The two buildings have zero tax value," she added. "There is a garage building on the property that has some value, but the two school buildings have no value."

Councilman Trayce Warner said it is time to take whatever steps will put the council on track for action.

On a motion by Randy Mills and a second by Dan Ludwig, council members voted 4-0 to condemn the buildings.

Discussion followed with Strait proposing a 30-day timeline for notification of the property owners. Council agreed to wait until the Jan. 7 meeting for a response from the owners.

The public hearing meeting was adjourned and council opened the regularly scheduled meeting. Following approval of the minutes, warrants, and the agenda with additions, Mills asked Winn to recess the regular meeting and reconvene the condemnation hearing due to the arrival of Karen Hastings, owner of the condemned properties.

Hastings spoke against condemning the property.

She said that she and her husband have in the past secured the buildings and done regular maintenance on the property.

"When the police have called to let us know that there are problems, they are not willing to tell us who is involved," she said. "I have been denied police reports and when I have asked for names so we can file charges of damage or trespassing, they tell me I don't need to know. If we knew who was involved we could try to get restitution out of them.

"How can we do anything if law enforcement won't even cooperate? At one time a bunch of city council members went traipsing through there without permission. How did they get in?"

Hastings asked if the council was aware that she has a contract for the city to purchase the buildings. "No council has ever honored it," she said.

Looking at the other council members, Mills said, "No one in this group is aware of your contract. How much are we paying you for this property?"

"Ten thousand dollars," Hastings replied.

Mills told her she would need to produce the contract before any conversation could take place about the proposal.

Hastings also denied ever receiving notice of any of the certified letters sent by the city. (City policy with regard to notifying Hastings has changed to notices hand-delivered by Florence police officers because certified letters were never picked up.)

Mills challenged her assertion of attention to the property.

"The place hasn't been mowed, the trees haven't been trimmed, and the city has taken care of securing the place more times than I care to remember," he said. "When we went in the last time the door of the limestone building wasn't even attached to the frame. It was lying on the floor."

Strait offered to accompany Hastings and her husband on a "walk-through" of the building in the next 30 days to make a list of what needs to be repaired and a timeline for the couple to address the issues.

Hastings told Strait she will be out of state for much of that time and that her husband is an invalid and is unable to be out in the cold air of winter. She said any walk-through would have to wait until warmer weather.

"We aren't waiting on you folks any longer," said Mills. "You have until Jan. 7 to come back with Bobbi and present a timeline for improvement."

Mills made a motion to that effect, seconded by Ludwig, and it was approved unanimously.

In other business, the council:

— repealed an ordinance which disallowed a $600 yearly stipend to the mayor and council members. Council voted 3-0 with Mills opposed to pay the mayor and themselves from the general fund. The amount will be pro-rated if service to the city is for less than eight months.

Mills stated for the record that he was opposed because many people donate hours to communities all over the county without compensation. Councilman Bryan Harper argued that the amount works out to $12.50 a week and is in line with what other cities pay.