Archive for Wednesday, April 20, 2011

City Commission denies razing request for Connecticut St. house

April 20, 2011


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.


somebodynew 6 years, 11 months ago

OK, now there is a pair to draw to. Dunn and Winn, wow add in a neglected property and you have a complete picture of either one (or both). I am sure they won't but I would like to see the City come down hard on both. Doesn't it just scream something wrong when the Attorney who is asking the City for something won't even name his client???

And if past history is any judge of character, if they have to remoldel the place the City better place an inspector there daily - I remember one other property Dunn was involved in that was supposed to be built one way - but then it wasn't. But not discovered until it was too late, of course.

cowboy 6 years, 11 months ago

Where in the statute does it allow for "angry commissioners". You can certainly deny the new project based on zoning but to deny the demolition is just being petulant. Another lawsuit the city will lose.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 11 months ago

Demolition by neglect should anger commissioners-- no statute required.

Maddy Griffin 6 years, 11 months ago

Paul Winn, who used to be in the City's Human Resources department? How funny that the good Reverend is also a slumlord.

leftylucky 6 years, 11 months ago

Dunn served with Winn on the Human Relations Comission. Winn had an arbitratrion office in the little house {7111/2 Conn) Dunn knew what was going on with the property and with Winn. Way to go Comissioners. Did Winn recieve money from SRS or Section 8 housing for this property? How come Praise Temple Church never got building permits for the church and why are there not any site plans?

Jennifer Dropkin 6 years, 11 months ago

Kudos to the City Commission for calling the landlord on this tactic--neglecting a property in hopes of getting permission for demolition. Now, what is the Commission going to do to prevent further attempts by Lawrence landlords at this development game?

Wayne Propst 6 years, 11 months ago

The church egress windows are too small....shut it down.......

nativeson 6 years, 11 months ago

The City needs a comprehensive approach toward older neighborhoods. This issue has been fought for decades, and the result is a continuing decline in the condition of housing stock. I do not know the circumstances that led to the decline of this property, but it certainly did not start its decline in 2004 when purchased by Mr. Dunn.

If we want real change, it will require a long-term ability for property owners to come into compliance with housing codes. The owner is now faced with either doing next to nothing or demolition since rehab all at once is simply too expensive.

notanota 6 years, 11 months ago

I agree that we need a comprehensive approach, but a property can decline really rapidly if not maintained. If it was in reasonable condition in 2004, all he had to do was not re-shingle it or treat it for bugs. The termites and leaky roof would do all the work. I saw this happen with another property in a different city - also next door to a church. It took less than five years of neglect to get that property condemned and bulldozed.

pinecreek 6 years, 11 months ago

Good for the CC, don't let either of them benefit from their own, apparently intentional neglect of this property. Next steps will be interesting and difficult, hopefully they'll drag all of them into some sort of court or hearing and sort out who's actually the driver of this ridiculous behavior.

cowboy 6 years, 11 months ago

A large number of properties in the central lawrence corridor are in similar shape. they are health hazards plain and simple. They lend little to nothing to the value of the neighborhood. This property with what looks like asbestos siding , crumbling foundation , mold , complete disrepair , should be demolished. The city should pull back the authority of HRC , which seems to have become a new planning commission , on top of the real planning commission , in addition to the permit approval process , in addition to the city commission , in addition to the staff recommendations. Get my point ? I have no problem with rejecting the construction of apartments . I have no problem with the establishment of historic districts. But lets be realistic. This is a pig no matter how you dress it up. Don't like the owner , fine , but that should not be a part of the decision.

If infill is the desired path for central lawrence , develop an architectural spec that the community can live with. New looks like old but new. Get it. Then let these neighborhoods be improved and start gaining value instead of just decaying. While you're at it enact rental property inspections and the authority to bring them in compliance with code over a period of time. Having worked on many of these properties over the years there are some real death traps out there waiting to implode.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 11 months ago

This house may very well need to be demolished, but I won't take the word of Dunn for that. Nor do I think he should be rewarded for the neglect that brought it to this condition, which quite literally amounts to blackmailing the community-- "either let me do whatever I want, or I'll trash this property so no one can do anything but bulldoze it."

guess_again 6 years, 11 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 11 months ago

"Developers Doug Compton, William Newsome, Steve Roth and Henry McClure"

Full-out narcissists who can't admit that they screwed up, and are now looking for a fall guy in this bike shop owner.

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago

I wonder why the above post was removed??

It referred to another paper, and what must be public information, without any sort of offensive insults, as far as I can tell.

imastinker 6 years, 11 months ago

It's laws like this that contribute to these places deteriorating. Look at the whole oread neighborhood. The places are expensive to purchase because they are right near KU. You can't improve them, so the only thing you can do is chop them up into apartments and rent them out. What is the solution here? The city passed laws limiting the number of unrelated tenants, and is just pushing the apartment buildings out on the outskirts of town where people don't have to deal with stuff like this. But it's really needed near KU.

What happened to being a green town? Instead we have a town where you have to drive to get anywhere.

I don't even know what to say to this thing. Isn't it his property and his business if he wants to tear it down? Whose business is it if he neglects it? This isn't even in a regular neighborhood. It's next to a church on one side and across from a commercial building. It's only got one house next to it.

Maybe they just don't want to pay taxes on it.

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago

I suppose you're against all zoning regulations, etc. then?

If somebody buys a house in a residential neighborhood, wants to tear it down, and set up a strip club instead, no problem?

Cities and communities are in the business of weighing the rights of property owners and neighbors, etc.

imastinker 6 years, 11 months ago

Not at all. Zoning regulations are important. This is where this city goes wrong. They fail to provide high density housing zones where they are needed/wanted and force the stuff to be illegal in single family areas or the laws to be skirted. Well planned cities have a balance of such housing densities. Do you think New York City was always skyscrapers? No, it was likely originally residential housing that was torn down to allow for planned growth. I bet you can't name half a dozen apartment buildings in walking distance to campus. Doesn't that seem odd?

Regarding this property, zoning regulations should dictate what is put there. They should allow the property to be torn down.

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago

Why if it's private property and the owner should be able to do what they want with it, would you support zoning restrictions?

imastinker 6 years, 11 months ago

Don't put words in my mouth. Zoning regulations are an important part of living in society. They are what keeps people from building munitions plants next to grade schools.

Zoning regulations shouldn't be able to keep properties from being torn down though.

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago

So you think it's nobody else's business if he neglects or tears down his property, but it's our business telling him what he can or can't build?

Seems like a funny distinction to me.

If he neglects his property, it affects neighbors and property values in the neighborhood.

imastinker 6 years, 11 months ago

Personally I think you're the one making a funny distinction. Lots of things affect neighbors and property values, like cars in the front yard and ugly paint jobs.

Zoning regulations are needed to protect easements, right of ways, and infrastructure serving the town.

Surely you aren't saying that the city should regulate ugly paint jobs and bad landscaping, right?

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago

Actually, different cities do have various codes about keeping up one's property.

A friend in Topeka had the city come by and require that they fix a variety of things on their house.

I think that when one's actions affect others, that is when government has a right to get involved.

Zoning issues affect others, but so do other decisions, like the decision to let a property simply deteriorate.

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 11 months ago

I can't name half a dozen apartment buildings...period. Why is that important?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 11 months ago

"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."

Does anybody else find this a very odd statement? Does attorney-client privilege really entail concealing the identity of the client? Doesn't the city (and its citizens) have the right to know who controls a property, particularly when they are seeking to demolish it, and then ask for a significant variance in its zoning?

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago

I'm not sure on the legal question.

But, I'm also not sure that the identity of the owner should be a contributing factor in the decision - isn't it better for that to be made on the merits of the request?

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 11 months ago

One would think an attorney would have to name his client simply to verify that, indeed, there is "attorney-client privilege"!

irvan moore 6 years, 11 months ago

i can't believe i'm doing this but i'm going to give cromwell credit for a good job on this one.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 11 months ago

Don't forget to take you BP meds-- your neck veins are visibly pumping.

LTownBaby 6 years, 11 months ago

The city currently makes $800ish in taxes on this property in a year, if they were to put up a 6 unit new apartment building, it would easily bring in $3,000. Multiply this by a few more hundred times and we are talking about real money!

Zachary Stoltenberg 6 years, 11 months ago

Ever wonder why Compton buys a place that mysteriously burns down a few months later and is replaced by a shiny new apartment building? That's how you deal with commissioners in this town apparently. That's what happened when you penalize and delay people for trying to go about it the right way.

quimby 6 years, 11 months ago

The property you are referring to on Penn is already demolished. There are, however, others in EL that merit consideration.

Matthew Del Vecchio 6 years, 11 months ago

I don't really have any interest in this issue specifically but I do like to see the city commission choosing not to lay down for the property moguls that think they run this town. Great job Cromwell!

Raider 6 years, 11 months ago

That's why that section of east Lawrence is such a dump. You have rundown properties that are to expensive to maintain combined with slumlords who won't fix them, and other owner/occupants who don't have the money to fix up their property. Yet when someone wants to raze a 100+ y/o old building that's falling down and build something new on the site, the neighborhood association hollers and cries about it and the city denies the permit. Wow.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 6 years, 11 months ago

This has the seeds of the Third Reich. Confiscation of peoperty to the benefit of the State (Reich) These marginally elected snobs on the "commmission" must have read "Mein Kampf" and committed it to their memories on how to take over and dictate to the citizens how they should live, behave, and just who and what are acceptable and who goes to the gas chamber.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 11 months ago

oneeye_wilber - If your comment " lighting" is supposed to be short for Jewish Lightning, then your comment should be flagged as inappropriate. If it is something else, please clarify and accept my apology in advance.

George_Braziller 6 years, 11 months ago

This was very intentional demolition by neglect. No other way to explain why the gas (thus the heat) was shut off but not the water despite being contacted several times that the water was still on. Gee, what a surprise. Frozen water lines, burst pipes and all of a sudden there is handy water damage to cite as a reason to tear it down.

Sigmund 6 years, 11 months ago

Pretending that zoning laws are there to improve the condition of private property, the Kommission cuts of it's nose despite its face. Let him tear it down and build something that meets code, then raise his property taxes to match the improvements.

tbaker 6 years, 11 months ago

Private property rights are the essence of liberty. The fact we have let government reach a point where it can tell people what they can and cannot do with thier own property sickens me. The fact our culture now produces groups of people who feel so empowered as to dictate to others what they can do with thier own property stuns me. If the Lawrence historic preservation community wants to save this house, they need to provide the funds to clean it up / repair it / buy it from the current owner. Otherwise, these people need to shut up and let the current owner exercise his private property rights. So long as what he does in no way harms his neighbors, they need to mind thier own business.

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago

But letting his property deteriorate does in fact harm his neighbors, in the form of lowering property values in the neighborhood.

MyName 6 years, 11 months ago

Real Property has always been in a different class from other types of property for the simple reason that you can't just pick it up and take it with you. You have more responsibility for it and the city or state has an interest in making sure you are taking care of it. As FDR said: "A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself." The same could be said for a neighborhood and its houses.

pace 6 years, 11 months ago

I am sorry the situation led to tarnish Mr. Dunn's reputation for property maintenance. I have known several of his properties and considered his maintenance habits very good. Much better than many landlords in this town. He dealt with my friends honestly and fairly and they had no problems.

tomatogrower 6 years, 11 months ago

Maybe let them demolish the house, but deny them permits to put anything in but grass, the legal kind.

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago

Dunn bought the house.

He then sold it to Winn and owner financed it, if what I've read is correct.

Who's the legal owner while the contract is being paid? From what I recall, it's a bit of a funny situation - the new owner doesn't get the deed to the property until it's been paid off, but for all intents and purposes they are the owners.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 11 months ago

Re: your 11:46 remark. I questioned your use of a term, one that if interpreted in the way I did, deserved to be removed as being anti-semetic. I note that you did not respond to my inquiry. Will you now?

guess_again 6 years, 11 months ago

Q: Who's the legal owner while the contract is being paid? A: Typically the seller retains recorded title until completion of payments, and hence is still legal owner.

Oneeye is deadeye wrong.

guess_again 6 years, 11 months ago

oneeye suggests: "An owner who sells on "contract' is not required to maintain a property."

Not at all true oneeye,

Titled owners of land are responsible for their property. Title has not passed here.

In the example you raise on 1000 block of Mass, a local company owned by an individual with a giraffe is the titled owner. The institutional financing, which only places a lien on the property, does not change the owner of record, or the party responsible for maintenance. As you suggest, a typical mortgage/loan does not create the responsibility of maintenance from the lender, except the lender has a natural financial interest in seeing the collateral maintained, and by contract can typically call in a loan if the property is deteriorating. (which would require the owner to refinance with another institution, pay off the loan, or surrender the collateral) The property owner is the purchaser, and the title reflects such.

However in a contract-for-deed situation, the financing party, the titled owner, is still very much the legal owner and is primarily responsible for the payment of taxes and use and maintenance of the property in a manner allowed by law and codes, until title passes....which is at a time agreed to by the parties, but typically is at the completion of all payments of the loan. The seller/owner can shift the burden of maintenance and maintenance costs and other burdens of ownership (payment of state and local taxes, benefit district levies, code compliance) to the purchaser through terms of the contract, but this is just a contract between the two of them. The seller is still very much still the legal owner of the property, and his butt is very much ultimately 100% on the line to the government for payments of all taxes, fees, levies, as well as the legal responsibility of maintaining the property in a manner which is legal under state and local laws.

Since title has apparently not passed, neither has ownership, and Mr. Dunn finds himself in a situation where he is very much still legally responsible, despite his utterances to the paper, or your belief, that he is not.

Armored_One 6 years, 11 months ago

The neglect aside, which I agree is a load of manure, does anyone know if this particular house was affected by the '51 flood? If the house was built when the report says, all of the timber was rough hewn and not pressure treated, so it would have spongued up the sediment and crud in the water that covered so much of the city.

Plus, with building codes being what they were back then, which is non-existant, it's very likely that repairs and updating the interior could actually be a catastrophic amount. In some of the older houses in this town I have helped fix up in one way or another, there are wall joists that not only do not mesh, they flat out don't touch anything.

I've seem nearly petrified wall studs that are so hard and dense that they sheer off re-enforced titanium bits designed for such a project.

You don't have to neglect it to bring in an architect and engineer to take a good, long look at the building.

A lot of foundations were trashed badly in the flood and basically just spot patched as best as possible after the flood as well. A lot of the old houses, and by old I mean pushing a century old, would simply not live through mudjacking it up to replace the foundation, which can run into the tens of thousands of dollars on just simple jobs.

Yeah, it beyond bogus to just let it stand there and rot instead of asking for help to accomplish something, but I think there might be a chance that there is more to reasons the property got to this point than just greed. I could be wrong, but the city might want to look into that as well. Some outside firm, from Manhattan or Salina with little chance of being tied to much of anyone here in town at all. Removes the chance, hopefully, of 'good ole boy' politics, which does run somewhat strong in this city.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 11 months ago

“The reason this property is in the condition it is in is because it has not been maintained. It is a failure. " Absolutely.

Slum Lording should be a crime.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 11 months ago

These boarding houses will be a menace no matter which neighborhood.

Too many bedrooms = too many cars = sanctioned animal house!

Of course slum lords are a menace no matter which neighborhood!!!

Sigmund 6 years, 11 months ago

merrill (anonymous) says… "Slum Lording should be a crime."

The landlord in this case WANTS to build a brand new building that would be up to current code using his own money and without any help from the taxpayers. It is the Kommission that is preventing that. You might want to consider who should be the target of you righteous indignation.

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