Troubleshooter

Raleigh takes owners to task on eyesore

Staff WriterApril 18, 2009 

  • Curt Willis, Raleigh's construction inspections administrator, can be reached at 516-2723 or curt.willis@ci.raleigh.nc.us.

— For nearly a decade, the building at 618 N. Person St. near downtown Raleigh has been condemned and boarded up with plywood by the city. Officials say it is unsafe, and they don't want vagrants or trouble-seeking teens to get hurt inside.

Nearby residents and business owners in the Mordecai and Oakwood neighborhoods have complained to city officials countless times over the years to get the owners to fix the property - including a recent complaint when bricks fell from the building onto the sidewalk.

Chris Mutos, co-chairman of the Mordecai Citizens Advisory Council, said the neighborhood group has complained to the city about the building's absentee landlords. The neighbors want Person Street to become popular and vibrant, like Ninth Street in Durham.

"It's sad the landlords have let it deteriorate," Mutos said. "The city has grants for landlords for facades, and they don't want to take advantage of it."

Nicole Kennedy, whose art studio is across the street, calls the building an eyesore. She said a fire in the rear of the building about two years ago made it worse.

Rick Conti, owner of Conti's Italian Market, had his business next to the condemned space in a store owned by the same owners. He partially blamed the building's unsightliness for the demise of his business. Conti said his space was in the same condition when he first rented it in 1998, but he spent his own money to renovate the store.

Curt Willis, the city's construction inspection administrator, said the city's hands used to be tied when it came to non-residential buildings. All it could do was board up unsafe buildings to keep people out.

But in February, the Raleigh City Council passed an ordinance giving city officials the ability to take action against commercial building owners who fail to meet code.

Now, 618 N. Person St. is one of the first buildings to have a case against it. If the owners - three sisters who inherited the building from their parents - do not make fixes, the city will tear it down.

City inspector David Hickman inspected the building in February after the bricks fell. He found the bricks repaired but still noted violations of city code, such as deteriorated wood around the structure, rotten floors in danger of collapse, exposed wiring and a roof collapse in the back of the building.

"I explained to the property management that these items have to be corrected whether the building is boarded up or not," Hickman wrote in his report.

The city has not given the owners a deadline to make the repairs until the two parties agree on the list of repairs, Willis said.

Doris Jackson, who lives in Philadelphia and is listed as the executor of the estate on property records, said she took over the building from her sister only three years ago and did not know its condition because she doesn't live here.

Right now, she said, she is looking into a construction loan "to take care of this."

Jackson also blamed Conti partially for its condition, saying he was supposed to buy it. Conti said he offered to buy it, but the sisters never agreed to sell it to him.

Chelsea Mills, owner of Chelsea Realty, recently took over management of the property. She said the owners now know what repairs they have to make. They plan to provide a shell, while a renter would be responsible for up-fitting electrical, HVAC, plumbing and water. Mills has the place for rent, asking for 70 cents a square foot, she said.

"We're hoping for leniency from the city," she said. "If we're 30 days out, and we have a loan in place and [contractors] scheduled, we hope that they won't bulldoze the building."

Mills said she plans to have it ready for a tenant within the next 90 days. She added that she has received a couple of letters of intent from renters.

Kennedy said she did not know the new ordinance had passed, nor did she know the city had started a case against the owners. She just hopes the neighborhood and business owners will get together to keep up pressure on the city to make sure the repairs are made.

"If not," she said, "it will just stay like that for another 12 years in a neighborhood that has so much potential."

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