Blackmer house complaints growing

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 19, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Prompted by an increasing number of complaints and inaction by the owner, a city official said he will begin a process that could lead to the demolition of the Blackmer family home on South Fulton Street.
Chris Branham, code services division manager, said he will seek permission from the city’s Historic Preservation Commission to demolish the house if Jonathan Blackmer doesn’t bring the historic structure up to minimum housing standards, sell it or demolish it himself.
“I’m starting to receive more and more complaints as time passes,” Branham said.
Branham estimated five to 10 people have complained about the house in the past six months to a year, in addition to others who complain about it repeatedly.
Blackmer, the son of actors Sidney and Suzanne Blackmer, owns the home at 112 S. Fulton St. that was badly damaged by fire in 1984.
The insurance had lapsed, and Suzanne Blackmer could not afford to rebuild it. The home sat vacant for decades while she lived in a New York City apartment.
In 2008, Blackmer himself asked the Historic Preservation Commission for permission to tear down the house. The group approved the request but delayed demolition for one year to give preservationists time to explore ways to save the house.
The grace period has long expired, and Blackmer says while he would love to sell the house for public use, including a room dedicated to his parents’ careers, he has few prospects.
Because the 2008 Certificate of Appropriateness for demolition was granted to Blackmer, Branham said the city will go through the process all over again as the new applicant.
Like he would with any other substandard property, Branham said he plans to send Blackmer a letter around May 1 outlining why the house doesn’t meet city code. That starts the clock ticking.
Blackmer will have about 30 days to meet with Branham. The city then issues a finding of fact, and Branham will give Blackmer up to 90 days to repair the house, sell it or demolish it.
Branham will meet with the Historic Preservation Commission.
“I would take this to them and make them aware that this is going on,” he said. “The end result, if nothing is fixed, is the same as any house — demolition, because we don’t do repairs.”
The commission could grant another grace period of up to one year, Branham said. If not, his request to demolish the Blackmer house could go before City Council in a matter of months from now.
When the city becomes involved, people will realize demolition is a real possibility and the house may be saved, Branham said.
“Somebody could step up,” he said.
Blackmer estimates repair and renovation of the house would cost $400,000.
In a phone interview Thursday from a movie set, Blackmer said he’s tired of people complaining about raccoons in the house.
Although six raccoons were trapped and killed last year, Blackmer said a professional has set traps in the house for the past 10 days and caught none.
He still hopes to find someone to save the house.
“I’m trying to do something with it,” he said. “If City Council wants me to destroy it, I will destroy it.”
Blackmer said he’s been working with local historians to place some pieces that belonged to his parents, including a piano and mirror.
Branham, who talks to Blackmer regularly and walked through the house last year, said Blackmer has cooperated.
“He seems to be willing to deal with it,” Branham said. “Now people who have been dealing with this for 25 years, as opposed to me dealing with it for two years, might have a different story.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.