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Railroad Street landowners get 90 days to clean up

The owners of a property at 215 Railroad St. have 90 days to get the debris removed and the yard and house looking better.

The Brookhaven Board of Aldermen spent two days discussing the owners’ two properties — a lot located on the corner of North Second Street and Main Street and 215 Railroad St. — both owned by Lawrence C. Smith Jr. and Roger Smith.

At a worksession Monday night, the board discussed whether it should allow Smith to continue making improvements to the properties or should the structures be torn down using city manpower and equipment.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, the board set a time limit for the owners to comply or face consequences.

Ward 2 Alderman Ward Randy Belcher on Tuesday said he would check the yard every 30 days of the 90-day period to see if there had been any progress.

The goal is to have at least the debris in the yard cleared in 90 days, he said.

After three months, the board will set another time limit to clear other parts of the property.

Attorney Joe Fernald added that Smith is required to stack up anything he intends to use for the building. Any property that cannot be used should be removed.

On Monday, Fernald conducted the public hearing much like a courtroom, calling witnesses to the front of the boardroom to discuss the ongoing issues with each property.

The property at the corner of North Second Street and Main Street was quickly dismissed after the first witness, city building inspector David Fearn, explained through photos that adequate progress had been made by Smith to clean up the property.

“I want to make sure for the record — the property at North Second and Main, if (Smith) moves the car and keeps the grass cut we’re satisfied,” Fernald said. “We’re not even going to fool with that tonight because (Smith has) moved the majority of the vehicles.”

Once the first property in question was taken care of, Fernald steered his question toward 215 Railroad St. With Fearn called to the front, Fernald walked the board through a packet of photos taken of the property on Oct. 21, Nov. 16 and Dec. 17.

The photos depicted the condition of the structure and the debris throughout the property, and the slow progress Smith has made over the last three months to fix the house and clean up the residence.

Fearn acknowledged that Smith has made progress, but recommended to the board what he thinks still needs to be completed by the homeowner.

“The bus still needs to be removed,” he said. “All of the debris that’s not being used for the construction on the house still out there needs to be cleaned up. Any tires, tin, any metal out there that’s not being used for construction on the house needs to go.”

“They’re has been a lot of progress on the property (clean-up),” Fearn continued. “It doesn’t appear — looking at the photos — that enough progress has been made to bring the structure up to city code.”

After Fernald went through all of the photos of the property, he gave Lawrence C. Smith Sr. and Lawrence C. Smith Jr. a chance to question Fearn.

The younger Smith had no questions for the building inspector, but instead a statement for the board.

“Since the 17th, there has been more work gradually coming along, weather permitting,” he said. “All of the tires have been removed. A lot of the poles and the fences that they seen behind the bus has been picked up and removed. A lot of the debris that’s in the front and on the south side, where the bus is, is materials to add on towards the house, to fix it up.”

He continued to list improvements that had been completed since the last set of pictures were taken, before turning the floor back over to Fernald.

The second witness Fernald called to the floor was city engineer Mike McKenzie, with WGK. McKenzie began by explaining a letter he wrote on Nov. 17, 2016, following his inspection of the property.

The letter states that Lawrence C. Smith Sr., the original property owner, and Lawrence C. Smith Jr. were on site during McKenzie’s inspection. The Smiths explained that they expected to complete the repairs themselves in 90 days on an estimated budget of $7,500.

McKenzie detailed several serious deficiencies that he noted during the inspection, including rotted wood ceilings, holes in the wall junctions, sagging floors, significant foundation settlement and termite damage.

“The building is in pretty poor condition,” he said.

Fernald’s major question for the engineer was — do you think it’s possible that it could be brought up to code?

“I think the best way to answer that is that anything is possible, given enough time and enough money,” McKenzie said. “Is it possible to do it? Yes, it’s possible to do it. I think the better question would be — is it possible to do it in keeping with the approximate $7,500 and the 90 days that they had indicated? That’s where I would have some trepidation in agreeing that it could be done in that period of time with that amount of money.”

Following McKenzie’s assessment, Fernald gave the Smiths a chance to question him.

The eldest Smith addressed the board at this point, asking for forgiveness for his negligence and time to make the property right again.

“I’m glad to be down here for one reason,” he said. “I come to apologize. Forgive me of my negligence in letting the building go down. Now that I got my children’s in it, I’m going to work with them to make it nice as any building on the street.”

The third witness Fernald called to the floor was Tammie Brewer, who owns several pieces of property on Railroad Street and the piece of property behind the Smiths. She attended the hearing to speak on behalf of several residents on Railroad Street.

“I would either like to see the property cleaned up and the house torn down, or I’d like to see Mr. Smith repair the property in a proper way that meets city code,” she said.

Brewer explained that she has been dealing with the effect of the property’s negligence since the early 2000s and would like something to finally be done to fix the problem.