Kannapolis votes to demolish seven vacant buildings in Carver

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 10, 2012

By Hugh Fisher
KANNAPOLIS — After a lengthy discussion, with charges of racial bias leveled at lawmakers, the Kannapolis City Council voted Monday to order seven properties in and near the Carver community demolished.
But three of those demolition ordinances won’t take effect for 60 days, after owners asked for time to take care of matters themselves.
And the case of an eighth vacant house, which owners say could be brought up to code, will be revisited in October.
Planning Director Kris Krider told the council that these “vacant and dilapidated” buildings have been the focus of a neighborhood revitalization effort.
Krider said that he and Code Enforcement director Tony Cline have been working on a broad-based plan to tackle code violations
The historically black Carver community, which includes many rental properties, has been the focus of stepped-up enforcement and revitalization efforts in recent years.
Krider said that, out of several properties identified, two have already been burned for practice by the Kannapolis Fire Dept.
And three, he said, have been brought back into code compliance, with one potentially on course to be sold and restored.
Krider went through the remaining properties and explained the history of complaints and cases against them.
In the case of several, such as the house at 202 James St., there’s no sign that the water has been turned on in over a decade.
Many of them have been broken into, burglarized or used as homes for vagrants.
Delayed issue
Looking at photos of buildings in disrepair, Mayor Bob Misenheimer asked how it was that someone had not brought the matter before the council in the past.
City Manager Mike Legg replied that the city simply doesn’t have the manpower.
“We don’t ignore things, but we don’t have the staffing to go out and find things,” Legg said.
Instead, Legg said, staff rely on citizen complaints and feedback. Also, he said, there will be efforts to be proactive in the future.
“As long as we continue that, there won’t be any that fall through the cracks,” Legg said.
“When you have a blighted house like this in your neighborhood, it’s going to continue, it’s going to multiply,” Misenheimer said.
Krider said there’s a story behind each of the vacant properties presented Monday.
Perhaps the most visible is the former First Baptist Church in the Carver community, at 544 East C St.
Now owned by First Bank following a foreclosure, Krider said the building is structurally unsound and in danger of imminent collapse.
Legg said he hoped the bank would take responsibility for demolishing the former church.
Otherwise, he said, the costs — including asbestos removal — could range as high as $70,000 and require special funding.
Approving the order
The council approved the demolition order on a 6-to-0 vote. Councilman Randy Cauthen was absent from Monday’s meeting.
According to Krider, property owners will receive a letter as soon as the ordinance takes effect, ordering them to remove their belongings and giving them a final opportunity to pay for demolition themselves.
Or, he said, they can seek an injunction and appeal the case.
Otherwise, Krider said, the city will take bids from contractors to tear down the building, remove the debris and cover the site with straw and grass seed.
And a lien for the amount of the demolition will placed on the land, so that if and when it’s eventually sold, the city will be repaid.
Several who spoke during Monday’s meeting appeared not to understand that process.
Owner: Singlingout blacks?
Victor Gray, owner of a house at 518 Dale Earnhardt Blvd. that was up for demolition, accused the city of trying to take land from minority residents so it could be resold.
“All these properties belong to black people,” Gray said. “It appears to me you’re trying to put liens on them … You’re singling out black families and their properties.”
Gray went on to say that other properties in the area, including rentals owned by local real estate agencies, have been in similar shape but were not put up for demolition.
Cline responded that one such house had been voluntarily torn down, and others were being examined.
And officials said race was not a factor in those decisions.
“We are looking at properties, not at people,” Krider said.
Still, Misenheimer asked Gray, who lives nearby on South Harding Street, to tell Code Enforcement about other properties that he felt should be examined.
Gray said his intention had been to remove the house himself. He said a back injury had kept him from doing so.
When the demolition order came up, Councilman Tom Kincaid voted against it in a 5-to-1 vote, “to give (Gray) the benefit of the doubt.”
“I don’t think anybody has any intention of taking your property away,” Kincaid told Gray.
Kincaid said his vote was to make the point “that we’re trying to help homeowners, not hurt them.”
After further discussion, Mayor Pro Tem Gene McCombs moved to reconsider the decision so that Gray could have more time to resolve the matter.
After voting unanimously to reconsider, a revised motion giving Gray 60 days to do so was adopted, 6 to 0.
Similarly, Larry Shivers, argued that he’d purchased the house at 202 James St. so he could renovate it. He said he’s unable to maintain it at present.
Shivers said he plans to sell off all of his rental properties and “get out of the business.”
During deliberations, rough estimates placed the cost of getting the house up to code, so it could be rented out, at between $7,000 and $10,000.
Council members voted to give Shivers 60 days before the demolition order took effect.
In separate votes, council members approved demolition orders for a former neighborhood store at 632 Wilson St., a duplex at 634 Wilson St. and the former Shorty’s Store at 205 Wood Ave., all effective immediately.
And a demolition order for the former shop at 709 S. Harding Ave was approved, delayed 60 days so the owner, Darnell Cunningham, could find out whether it might be converted into a storage building and sold.
Cunningham said he agreed with Gray, that the city was targeting black property owners.
“I think the council ought to start looking citywide instead of community-wide,” Cunningham said.
He, too, said he would give Code Enforcement a list of properties he felt should be examined.
Cunningham also received a 60-day window to settle matters prior to the ordinance taking effect.
Only one of the eight properties got any further reprieve.
Trina Stowe-Hackett, of Charlotte, said she and husband Jimmie Hackett, Sr. plan to renovate the vacant house at 663 Wilson St.
“I’ve been working with Mr. Cline quite a bit over the years,” she said.
She said the house, part of her father’s estate, could still be brought up to code.
“I am still interested in the property. I wasn’t able to get as much work done, I’ll be honest with you,” she said.
But she told council that a run-down storage building on site had already been demolished, the house itself cleaned out and trees cut back.
“It has not been inhabited for some years,” Stowe-Hackett said, “… but I would like the council to give us time to see what we can do.”
Kincaid said he felt it was natural for neighbors to want to see a nearby home kept in order.
“I think if you want to keep that property, you need to keep the grass cut, the trees trimmed … I think there’s some work you can do on the weekends,” he said.
After further discussion, the council voted to table that demolition order until the first meeting in October.
Not all who spoke were opposed to the city’s course of action.
Joyce Gibson, who lives at 550 East C Street, rose to thank council members for their decision to demolish the former church next door to her family home.
“I’ve been asking about it for years,” said Gibson, who heads the Carver Area Historic Preservation Association.
She said it was true that the largely black Carver community had been singled out for code enforcement.
But, she said, the intention is to improve the standard of living.
“When you live in the community, it makes a difference when (building codes) are not held up,” Gibson said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.