Council tables demolition of former shelter
By Jon Hawley
Saturday, January 12, 2019
Elizabeth City City Council has put on hold plans to demolish the city’s former homeless shelter on Herrington Road, despite city staff’s arguments the structure is blighted and not worth repairing.
Council voted 4-3 to table demolition of the former shelter at 709 Herrington Road during its finance committee meeting on Thursday.
Voting to table the demolition were Councilors Billy Caudle, Darius Horton, Gabriel Adkins and Anita Hummer. Voting against tabling the demolition were Mayor Bettie Parker and Councilors Rickey King and Jeannie Young. Councilors Johnnie Walton and Kem Spence did not attend Thursday’s meeting.
The finance committee's votes are advisory only, but City Manager Rich Olson said he would not put the demolition on the agenda for Monday's City Council meeting, effectively delaying it.
The city has owned the house at 709 Herrington Road for more than a decade. Because it was purchased with a grant intended to help low-income people, the house has been used on and off as a homeless shelter.
The Visions of Hope group ran a shelter in the house from 2014 until early last year, when bedbugs forced it to close. The group was struggling even before the bedbugs, and disbanded once the shelter closed.
Since then, the city has discovered the house has structural damage, rotted floors and other issues, Olson told councilors on Thursday. The property is a blight, Olson said, and the city would be seeking its condemnation, were it not the owner.
Olson also reported that, based on a contractor's estimate, it would cost $150,000 to fix the house, or more than it would be worth, based on its tax value. He recommended council vote to demolish the building, at a cost of about $5,000. Half that cost would be for the house’s demolition, paid to low bidder Stevenson Sand, and half would be for debris disposal fees paid to the Pasquotank County landfill, he estimated.
Several councilors opposed that plan, however.
Horton said the city had to save money whenever possible, and should try to sell the property as-is to avoid the demolition expense. He suggested someone might buy it and fix it up.
“One man's trash is another man's treasure,” he said, adding he would reconsider demolition if efforts to sell the structure failed.
Parker and Young supported the structure’s immediate demolition. Parker said the city has “moral” as well as financial responsibilities, and delaying the demolition would be “perpetuating blight” in a neighborhood that has other properties in bad shape. She noted she has rental property in the area.
Parker also joined Young in questioning if a buyer would fix the property, or make only limited repairs before renting it out, leaving someone in poor living conditions.
King, a long-serving councilor and council’s mayor pro tem, said he's seen the city put a lot of money into the Herrington Road property over the years; he argued the city should tear it down and be done with it.
Similar to Horton, Caudle argued against spending the money to tear the building down, and disagreed the demolition was a moral decision. He also questioned how deteriorated the house truly is, given it was occupied until early last year.
Caudle also appeared to question if Parker favors the demolition because she owns property nearby.
“Our job is to make the best business decision for the city, not clean up a house in a neighborhood where we happen to have rental property,” he said.
Parker responded, “I don't care what neighborhood it's in, if it's a house that it is not livable, I will still speak out against it.”
Even though the house was recently occupied, Parker said that doesn’t mean it’s in acceptable shape.
“We have a tendency to look the other way, depending on who's in that house,” she said.
When the vote came to try to sell the house, only Horton and Adkins voted to do so.
Caudle instead proposed tabling the demolition, arguing the city might still be able to repair and reuse the structure. The city should wait to see how its effort to open a new homeless shelter unfolds first, he suggested. The city is working with Pasquotank County to try to use part of the former health department building on Cedar Street as a new shelter.
Though agreeing to table the matter, Hummer said the house is in bad shape and unsafe to walk through.