JEFFERSON — The Town of Jefferson might not have the authority to condemn buildings within its city limits.
That’s according to Jefferson Town Attorney John Johnson, who recently consulted with the UNC School of Government. He found that the town needs a formal written agreement with Ashe County permitting it to inspect buildings within city limits.
According to Jefferson’s Town Manager Cathy Howell, no record of an agreement can be found, and that could complicate how Jefferson deals with a South Main Street apartment complex that was destroyed by a fire in January.
The damaged complex, located at 534 South Main St., consisted of seven apartment units which were unoccupied at the time of the fire. No injuries were reported and the building was rendered a total loss.
Ashe County Building Inspector Jeff Cornett condemned the building on May 1, but according to Howell he could be asked to repeat his procedures because Johnson doesn’t think it’s been followed through correctly in regards to the statues. This could extend the time-line of the removal of the building.
According to the UNC School of Government, Jefferson Aldermen would need to make a request to the Ashe County Board of Commissioners who would direct one or more county inspectors to condemn the property for the town. The only other option, Johnson said, is to hire an independent contractor at the town’s expense.
The board voted unanimously to ask the Ashe County Board of Commissioners for their assistance in the matter.
The board also discussed the conditions at an apartment complex that is adjacent to the burned structure on South Main Street. The property lacks utilities, according to Howell, and in April Jefferson asked Cornett to condemn that structure along with the complex that was damaged by fire.
In previous interviews, Howell said tenants continue to live in the adjacent complex even though it’s water access doesn’t work and the sewer connection – which is handled by Jefferson – has been cut off due to non-payment.
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 last month. “But I don’t see why not. They don’t have the utilities, so I don’t know how they get by with it.”
Howell said on Nov. 23, she has reported her concerns to the Appalachian District Health Department on multiple occasions.
“She (landlord) shouldn’t be able to rent under the conditions that it’s in, that’s my opinion,” Howell said.
When asked about the buildings in October, 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.”
Jefferson Alderman Mike Herman said he would like to see an ordinance created for Jefferson requiring rental proprieties to provide water, sewer, electricity and other necessary utilities but also said that it could be difficult to enforce.
“The problem with ordinances is you have to enforce them and you have to have someone to enforce them. Then you have to have a consequence,” Herman said. “But there’s plenty of municipalities that have that.”
Howell said that she would look into the possibility of creating an ordinance.
“It’s a bad situation,” Mayor Bluferd Eldreth said. “It’s sad that you’ve got an eyesore like this and can’t get anything done.”
Hannah Myers can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cmedia_hmyers.