JEFFERSON —Since a fire that occurred back in January destroyed one apartment complex, Jefferson town officials have been stuck in a waiting game on what to do with the complex and the occupied unit that still stands next to it.
The damaged complex, located at 534 South Main Street in Jefferson, consisted of seven apartment units that were unoccupied at the time of the fire. No injuries were reported and the building was rendered a “total loss.”
During a Jefferson board of aldermen meeting on April 27, the board expressed interest in condemning not only the building damaged by the fire but the adjacent structure due to concerns Town Manager Cathy Howell had about the living conditions of the apartments.
The damaged building was condemned on May 1, but tenants continue to live in the adjacent complex which hasn’t been condemned —and according to Ashe County Building Inspector Jeff Cornett, it won’t be.
Cornett originally told the board that he could condemn the building if the town requested it stating: “It’s at a state that it can be condemned.”
Cornett later retracted his statement claiming that he saw no reason for it to be condemned.
“He came back with an answer to me saying ‘no, they could not condemn both sections,’” Howell said. “But I don’t see why not. They don’t have the utilities, so I don’t know how they get by with it.”
According to Howell, to her knowledge, the building’s water isn’t working and the sewer is through the town which is cut off due to non-payment. Howell also said she isn’t sure if the building has electricity.
But Cornett says the building isn’t in the condition where it can be condemned.
“I’ve looked at the building and I don’t see where its posing an immediate threat right now,” Cornett said.
Howell said she reported her concerns to the Appalachian District Health Department when she realized that new tenants were moving in.
“I don’t know how she (the owner) can legally do that when she doesn’t have water or sewer,” Howell said.
When asked about the conditions of the building, Jennifer Greene, Director of Allied Health Services, stated: “We are looking more into this issue with community stakeholders involved. When we have more information, we will get back with you.”
In regards to the removal of the damaged building, Howell says it’s now in the hands of the town’s attorney and Cornett who are currently trying to come into agreement on the legalities of the situation.
“When he (attorney) tells us to go through with it, we will,” Howell said.
Cornett previously stated in April that once condemned, the owner of the building would have 60 days to tear it down, which would have placed the deadline back in July.
Cornett had also stated that if the owner does not take the responsibility in tearing it down within those 60 days, the burden is then placed on the town who would have to cover the cost of the disposal of the building.
Under those circumstances, the town could put a lien against the property once the building was disposed of. Another option would be to take the property owner to court to seize the property to replace town money spent on the disposal.
Howell didn’t have an estimation as to what it would cost if the town had to remove either building.
During the board’s April meeting, aldermen had agreed that it would be easier to condemn both buildings at the same time to save on costs of removal since construction equipment would be readily available.
But for now, it appears that both buildings will be staying put for just a little while longer.
Hannah Myers can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cmedia_hmyers.