By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The elderly owner of a dilapidated house on Montrose Avenue has six months to sell or the city could take steps to demolish it.






The house has not been occupied since 1978, according to city officials.


The

Charlottesville Planning Commission

recommended 5-1 Tuesday that

City Council

designate the structure as “blighted.” That paves the way for the city to assert its power of eminent domain to demolish it if steps aren’t taken otherwise.

“This property has been in bad shape for 30 years,” said Richard Griecki, a neighbor who testified at a public hearing on the matter.

The city’s

Department of Neighborhood Services

has the power to declare a structure as “blighted” if staff determines it has deteriorated to a point where it becomes a threat to public health and safety.

Owners of blighted property have 30 days to draft a plan outlining what repairs will be made to bring the structure into compliance with city code. If no plan is submitted or if the plan is not found to be satisfactory, the Planning Commission is asked to make a recommendation to council on whether thecity should make a corrective action.

“This property has been repeatedly cited for maintenance issues since 1993,” said Patty Armstrong, a property maintenance inspector with the city. “The plumbing system, electrical system and furnace are in need of replacement.” She added that the house is infested with termites.

Armstrong said demolition costs range from $8,850 to $15,000. Estimates to rehabilitate the house are as high as $150,000.

The building has been unoccupied since 1978, but it is not empty.






Ivy covers the western side of the house.


“The house is packed with books,” said property owner Charles Rogers, who spent 36 years working for the post office before retiring in 1990. “I’ve been buying them at flea markets and yard sales and I sell them to bookstores. But because people have been using up so much time with computers, people aren’t reading anymore so I want to get rid of them.”

Rogers, who lives in a home on East Jefferson Street, asked for 90 days so he could remove the books and sell the house. He said he has been approached by several potential buyers.

Rogers has paid all of the fines associated with past violations and is up to date with his property taxes. The house and its land are assessed at $142,100, according to the city assessor’s office.

Armstrong said any potential buyer would have to sign an affidavit indicating they are aware they would assume responsibility for taking steps to address the blight.

Greg Jackson, an architect who serves as vice president of the

Belmont-Carlton Neighborhood Association

, said he would prefer to see the house rehabilitated rather than torn down, but agreed that something needs to be done.

“It looks like it’s a house that’s salvageable and, of course, it all depends on how much the termites have gotten to,” Jackson said. “This is a historic neighborhood. I prefer the historic houses instead of the ones that have been going up to replace them.”

Out of a concern that it would lead to a quick demolition, two planning commissioners wanted to defer the commission’s decision on whether the property is blighted.

Commissioner

Lisa Green

wanted to know more about the structural integrity of the home. Commissioner

Genevieve Keller

said the house was part of a neighborhood that she said could qualify for historic protection.

But Commissioner

John Santoski

said enough evidence had been presented to show that the property is blighted.

“We could declare it as a blighted property and just make a notation that when it comes before council that if Rogers doesn’t have a Realtor actively selling the property … that they declare it as blighted and have it demolished,” Santoski said.

City staff expressed skepticism the property would be repaired by the current owner.

“It is staff’s opinion that any further attempt to elicit the property owner’s cooperation to follow through with a plan for rehabilitation and repair of the property would be futile,” Rogers said. “Over the past 17 years, he has failed to address the identified and cited violations despite the city giving him ample time, chances and leniency to do so.”

Commissioner

Kurt Keesecker

suggested 90 days would not be enough time for Rogers to get his affairs in order. The commission agreed to give him six months to attempt to sell the house.

Commission voted 5-1 to recommend the designation with Chairman

Jason Pearson

dissenting and Commissioner

Dan Rosensweig

recusing himself.

“Some recent information regarding this item has come my attention that I feel would probably prove prejudicial and hinder my ability to make an unbiased recommendation,” Rosensweig said before leaving council chambers.

He was not immediately available for further comment.

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