Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I believe in showing mercy, but the council needs to stand by its word

When property owners are given a deadline to bring their buildings up to just minimum specs for habitation, the town has an obligation. The obligation is to follow through on its commitment. If not, then some people who are adversely affected can claim unfair treatment while others are constantly given extensions.

Over a year ago, property owners with unsafe buildings were given notice to fix the properties or have them torn down. If they did not comply nor tear down the structure, the town would do it for them. The owners were given almost a year to do something. A process was set in place to comply, to petition for extension, etc. Some did apply for extensions and they were granted across the board for all. Four months extra were given. Then, some owners started working on their properties. Those that showed an effort were given even more time to complete the work.

There were many who did not do anything. Some who did nothing are now complaining that they were not given enough time. Now, the town council has backed down yet again on yet another request and allowed yet more time.

What bothers me is that some houses are going to be torn down, people are going to lose their properties, and they are going to have a lien against their property to help recover the costs associated with demolition. I have no problem with that concept if the property owners are going to do nothing about properties. However, I am troubled that there is a double standard in place here.

If the town is going to "get tough" on these properties, extension after extension after extension is not going to help the cause. I just read that the town has granted yet another extension to a property owner one month after the deadline had passed. Now, the owner has a two week time line just to get a plan from a general contractor. That could mean that the process with this one property, over which there have already been given many breaks in the past, could drag out indefinitely.

I am all for private property rights. However, I am also all for equal protection and treatment under the law. This action by the town to clean up blighted properties that do not even meet the minimum standards for human occupancy have nothing to do with race, creed, sex, religion, or social status. It has to do with meeting minimum criteria for basic sanitation and safety.

With property rights comes responsibility. One can not constantly ignore the responsibility and claim the rights. If someone does not take care of a property, it becomes a haven for drug users and transients (as the property in question repeatedly has), it lowers the value of the surrounding properties, and affects the neighborhood, then action needs to be taken. Some, apparently, have to be dragged kicking and screaming to their responsibilities. When notified of the responsibility, some have shirked it and a good "head slap" is needed, which in effect, is what John Barwick, the owner of the condemned house has gotten. I merely say that he should have the same treatment as the others who have or will be losing their properties and not have indefinite exceptions unfairly made for one person who has dragged his feet but squawked the whole way.

Has this whole condemnation policy worked? Since I am on the Planning Board for the Town of Selma, I do get to see properties come up for planning review. Four old houses that were condemned and previously given an extension will finally be town down and nice brand new duplex homes will be erected in their place. This will help the tax base for the town, attract a higher quality tenant, improve the neighborhood, and hopefully profit the owners.

Two other duplexes were reviewed at the planning board meeting a week ago Monday. These are going to be built in established neighborhoods that have previously been blighted by the same old, substandard housing. These buildings can only help the neighborhood and the town in the same way.

As much as I would prefer to see these buildings be single family homes that local folks would own instead of rent as tenants, it is a start to change the standard of living in Selma. It is a slow process, for certain, but worth it in the long run.

From The Selma News:
A retired pastor and owner of a condemned house was given just 14 days by the Town Council to hire a North Carolina licensed contractor and bring a plan of action before the Council or have civil action brought against him to have the house torn down.

Council held a special meeting Thursday to hear from John Barwick, the owner of a condemned house at 301 E. Waddell St., Selma. Barwick appeared before the Council on July 10 to request an extension on the June 13 deadline he was given to bring the house up to code.

The special meeting on Thursday was called to consider the matter. By meeting's end, Barwick was instructed to hire a NC lincesed general contractor and to bring that contractor's plan for completion back to the Council within 14 days.

Read more about this and other local news in this week's The Selma News.

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