Judge Marion Chipman ordered that the city put its demolition plans on hold for three East Lawrence properties. Among his reasons:
The owners, Harold and Caroline Shephard, intend to rehabilitate the homes, and already have been issued building permits for the work.
The Shephards would suffer "immediate and irreparable loss and damage" if the demolitions occurred.
The city would suffer "no damage" as a result of the judge's order.
Judge halts demolitions
The fates of three East Lawrence homes rest in the hands of a Douglas County district judge.
The city's bulldozers will just have to wait.
Three houses deemed "unsafe and dangerous" by Lawrence city commissioners will not be torn down today, after a judge approved a temporary restraining order.
Marion Chipman, a retired Johnson County district judge filling in this week for Douglas County District Judge Robert Fairchild, decided that the city shouldn't be allowed to raze the three homes until both sides could make their cases in court.
No hearing date has been set, but owner Harold Shephard said he was confident his three properties -- 810 N.J., 1309 N.J. and 837 E. 13th -- would be spared the wrecking ball. He wants another year to bring the rental homes up to livable standards.
"I'm seeking my rights as an owner and a taxpayer," Shephard said. "They're picking those properties out because blacks own them."
Harold and Caroline Shephard, who are black, bought the three properties less than a year ago. This spring, city officials deemed the homes to be "unsafe and dangerous" and ordered the homes either repaired or razed.
City officials then set several deadlines for repairs throughout the summer, all of which passed without compliance. Last month, commissioners ordered all three properties repaired within 30 days, or else the city would tear them down immediately.
The 30-day period expired Thursday, and only one of the renovation projects -- at 837 E. 13th -- has shown enough progress to be taken off the demolition list, City Manager Mike Wildgen said. Inspectors already had contractors lined up to tear down the other two homes as early as today.
"We had plans," Wildgen said. "We were proceeding on with it, and now we obviously won't."
The city has until Oct. 14 to answer the judge's restraining order; Fairchild also must schedule a hearing, during which the city and the Shephards may make their cases. The Shephards are being represented by attorney Price Banks, the city's former planning director.
The demolition debate isn't the only contentious issue that has prompted Harold Shephard to fight city hall. Last year, Shephard accused city officials of discrimination in granting city construction contracts.
The city eventually convened a task force, which found no evidence of intentional discrimination but did acknowledge that "bundling" of some contracts might have squeezed out smaller contractors.
On Thursday, Shephard, owner of C&S Construction of Baldwin, said not much had changed. He wants to rehabilitate the homes for rental to low-income black families, just as the homes were occupied during Lawrence's early days.
The city doesn't appear willing to give him the time necessary to finish the work, he said.
"The city is being unreasonable, because they don't want to give anyone the opportunity to preserve the culture down in there," Shephard said. "I'm trying to preserve some of the black history in Lawrence. ...
"They need to leave one or two homes. They don't need to destroy all of them."
Shephard pledged to keep up the fight. The courts were his last resort.
"I'm going to do everything I can to stop them. I'm not going to roll over," he said. "And when we get these things back on line, I would hope those people at the city would appreciate it."