Director of Public Works Tim Thornbury came prepared to the Tuesday night Red Bank Commission meeting with three notebooks filled with documentation for condemnation hearings. These public hearings, originally on the agenda of the March 5 commission meeting, were postponed that night because the owner of the properties was not present. The stormy session ended with three rental properties belonging to Stephen H. Jan being condemned.
For over a year, the city has attempted to get Mr. Jan to bring the properties that he owns in Red Bank up to code, Mr.
Thornbury said. Condemnation postings were placed for buildings at 2622 Berkley Dr., 4506 Crerar St. and #4 Trenton St. in November, 2011. Between then and March 14, 2013, Mr. Thornbury said he sent letters and met with or called Mr. Jan nearly a dozen times to discuss progress on the repairs, or lack of it. Some letters sent by certified mail were returned to the city unopened, which prompted Mr. Thornbury to hand deliver a letter in October 2012 that advised of condemnation proceedings unless plans were given to the city and building licenses purchased for work on the properties within 30 days. A deadline of 60 days was given for completion of the renovations.
The first response from the property owner came in a fax on Aug. 31, 2012, stating that Matthews Construction Company had been hired to see what repairs were needed at all three houses. In February of this year the city inspector received a call from a neighbor to the Crerar Street house saying work was being done there. When Mr. Thornbury arrived, he found Matthews Construction had been hired to reconfigure an interior door and to make repairs to a wooden deck. The firm was given a list of everything else needed to make the house habitable by city standards and came back with an estimate of $50,000-$60,000.
Because no building permit had been obtained for the job, the city stopped the work until one was secured. Nothing more was heard from Matthews Construction and no more work was done on the house, Mr. Thornbury said.
In addition to copies of all correspondence and notes from every meeting and phone call, the notebooks compiled by Mr. Thornbury included reports from an engineering firm hired by the city. Thomas Retseck, a registered professional engineer with March Adams Engineering, inspected the structures and documented with photographs and written descriptions what were termed deplorable conditions he saw at each of the three locations.
Some of the conditions observed at the houses were holes in the walls and roofs, broken windows, open, unsecured doors, parts of ceilings that were missing, defective wiring or, in one case, wiring that had been ripped out along with all the plumbing. He documented rotten floor boards and interior mold caused by water that had gotten inside. All buildings had rotten wood around windows, and eaves. At one house floors were beginning to collapse. Kitchens and bathrooms were dismembered and basically non-functional and he observed decks falling off the buildings as well as out-buildings with roofs collapsed in and trees leaning against one of the houses. At one location, all plumbing and the HVAC systems were in advanced stages of deterioration.
Mr. Retseck testified that he had seen no repairs that had been done, and he considered the buildings a public nuisance and not fit for human habitation. The cost of repairs would be greater than 51 percent of the value of the homes, making it not economically feasible to repair them, he said.
In the public hearing, Mr. Jan was given the opportunity to respond to the allegations and answer questions. Instead, he complained about the city posting condemnation notices before notifying him. He raged that the city had voided R-2 status for one of the properties because the electric power had been disconnected for extended periods of time, requiring him to convert the duplex into a single-family dwelling. According to him, the conversion was not completed since the city halted work due to the lack of a building permit. He said that was the responsibility of the construction company, not his. He also accused city officials of siding with neighbors of the houses, saying they want to buy his land.
During the hearing for the Berkley Drive property, he admitted that in the present condition, none of these houses could be rented. "I’m not going to stay," he said. "Tthe conversations will all be the same -- there is no point." City Attorney Arnie Stulce asked, “Are you going to waive your rights about the other buildings?” At which point Mr. Jan walked out and left the building.
Based on the testimony and photos, what is left of the houses are dangerous and unfit for human habitation, it was declared. The evidence showed that the city gave every reasonable opportunity and time for Mr. Jan to make the repairs, yet he has made no attempt at all to do so. It was unanimously approved that the city will require the owner to demolish the structures within 60 days. If not done by that time, the city will do the work and the expense of the demolition will be charged to Mr. Jan as a lien.
Another way Red Bank is improving its image is with a new building code that will regulate materials used in building facades for the commercial district. The ordinance, which was unanimously approved, will require permanent materials such as stone and brick on the exterior of commercial buildings.
A public hearing and first reading was held for a request to rezone 918 Lullwater Road from R-1A to R-2 Residential in order to construct a duplex. Commissioner Kenneth Welch commented that all the other buildings in that area are duplexes. A second reading and vote on this issue will take place at the April 2 commission meeting.
The commissioners authorized the city to submit a proposal to receive a grant for roadwork on Dayton Pike. The work would not be done until 2016, but in order to apply for the money, an application must be made now.
An easement was granted for the sanitary sewer servicing the new middle school where it crosses some Red Bank property on Tom Weathers Drive. This gives the city of Chattanooga rights for maintenance, but Red Bank reserves the option to move the sewer line in the future if the property is ever needed.
The city adopted a resolution to amend the 2013 budget in order to appropriate a donation of $28,000 to the public works department. This was given to the city to be used for new welcome signs for Red Bank.
It was announced that starting on April 27 an outdoor music event will held the fourth Saturday night each month until taken indoors at a venue in Red Bank when cold weather arrives. It will be known as “Pickin in the Park”. A revocable license was issued for Steve Daugherty, who will be in charge.
A license agreement was also authorized between the city and “Seniors on the Go”. This sets requirements that will allow the group to use the community center. The license will be renewable on an annual basis.
City Manager Randall Smith announced public forums that will be held March 21 and 28 for citizens to meet and discuss city issues and concerns.
The next meeting of the Red Bank Commission will be April 2 at 7 p.m.