A run-down house on Connecticut Street elicited a run up in emotion from Lawrence’s new mayor on Tuesday night.
City commissioners at their weekly meeting not only denied a request to demolish an early 1900s home at 711 Conn., but Lawrence Mayor Aron Cromwell also chided the applicant for allowing the home to become so run-down.
“This is almost a farce,” Cromwell told Michael Tubbs, a Lawrence attorney representing a group who wants to redevelop the property with a new apartment project. “The reason this property is in the condition it is in is because it has not been maintained. It is a failure.
“Rather than hanging their heads and apologizing, they stand before us with a plan to capitalize on their neglect. I’m very upset about that and the impact it has had on the neighborhood.”
Tubbs had argued that the house posed a safety hazard, and indeed the city condemned the property and declared it unfit for habitation for structural reasons in August. The house has significant water damage, termite damage and large amounts of debris inside.
But city commissioners on Tuesday said they didn’t see any evidence that the exterior walls of the house were at a high risk to collapse and injure bystanders or adjacent property.
Commissioners heard from several members of the east Lawrence neighborhood and the Lawrence historic preservation community who urged commissioners to deny the demolition request because it would set a bad precedent for property owners who don’t maintain their properties.
“We believe the house doesn’t need a bulldozer as much as it needs a Dumpster,” said Dennis Brown with the Lawrence Preservation Alliance.
In addition to denying the demolition application, which previously had been rejected by the city’s Historic Resources Commission, commissioners also directed staff members to research city code to determine what the property owner could be forced to do to improve the property.
City commissioners on Tuesday tried to determine exactly who was responsible for allowing the property to deteriorate, but without much success. Tubbs declined to answer a question from the commission about who his client was, citing attorney-client privilege. He also declined to answer who was responsible for managing the property.
Longtime Lawrence landlord James Dunn is the owner of the property, but he told the Journal-World in a previous interview that he had no role in managing the property. Instead he said the adjacent Praise Temple Church, 315 E. Seventh St., is the entity behind the project. Dunn said he bought the property in 2004 solely as a means of financing the property for Praise Temple. The church, which neighbors noted is led by Rev. Paul Winn, who has had several housing violations in the city, is purchasing the property from Dunn “on contract,” he said.
Tubbs declined to comment on any of that.
“I’m not here to debate how the structure got to this point, but it is at this point,” Tubbs said.