Demolition for the Holidays?

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The Charlestown Board of Public Works met on Monday, December 18, 2017. At this meeting the topic of vacant, boarded up houses in Pleasant Ridge was raised during public comment. Specifically, the Board was asked:

  1. Is the Board in the process of drafting a request to have Pleasant Ridge Redevelopment, LLC raze and remove the vacant houses (per an agreement reached between the City and PRR on November 7, 2017)?

  2. If not, what steps can be taken to initiate this process and hold PRR accountable for the responsibilities outlined in the letter (from John Hampton to Tony Jackson, dated October 24, 2016)?

A recording of the meeting can be found here: 

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This issue is a tough one. Mayor Hall has noted several times that removing the structures is “a process.” Certainly we cannot expect the homes to come down the day after renters move away.

image4These structures, however, have been standing in deplorable condition since the first wave of renters vacated on March 31. Developer John Hampton originally said the demolition process would begin by November. It is now December and the People of Charlestown have not received an updated plan of removal. How long does the process take? The timeline below clarifies how long it has taken so far:

Timeline

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The letter calling upon Pleasant Ridge Redevelopment, LLC to meet their responsibilities for the demolition of the structures they own has not been sent. The letter is not in the draft process. As of now there seems to be no indication that the letter will be sent.

image6What we do have is confirmation that the City has submitted applications to IDEM for removal.  We know that some of those applications have been approved. We know that there are clusters of boarded up houses in Pleasant Ridge that meet John Hampton’s criteria for removal (Winthrop Drive, Arlington Drive, and Berkley Drive all provide examples of houses in clusters of five or more).

It is my hope that the City remains steadfast on this issue and that these dangerous structures, for which the City admits it bears responsibility, will be taken down as quickly as possible.

*** UPDATE ***

Immediately after posting this timeline I saw an article in today’s Courier Journal in which Hampton is quoted as saying that the demolition permits were obtained before the recent ruling on the preliminary injunction (December 4, 2017). Hampton told the journalist that the homes will begin coming down in January 2018. 

Hampton Letter to Tony Jackson

 

“I’m just not that into politics”

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Did anyone else grow up learning not to discuss politics, religion, or money? The basic idea behind banning these topics stems from the belief that they’re too emotionally provocative and, let’s face it, nobody wants a food fight at Sunday supper.

Unfortunately, banning these topics also produces a culture in which we learn that disagreement should be stifled and hidden away, rather than recognized and discussed in healthy conversations that have the potential to broaden our understandings of the world.

If I surround myself only with people who agree with me, I limit my ability to learn how people develop different opinions.

I don’t get to hear how my neighbors, friends, and family have experienced life differently than me. I don’t get to consider how I might be wrong. This is dangerous because then, when we do disagree, I can just believe other people are stupid, misguided, mean, or stubborn…a belief that is unfair and irresponsible.

In this environment, anyone who disagrees with me becomes an enemy.

In this environment it is much easier to bully, call people names, and issue personal attacks that fall outside the scope of the original disagreement.

In order to avoid the tension of disagreement that we’ve been taught is bad, we often proclaim,

“I’m just not political!”

But we are. We have opinions, beliefs, values, and ideas that speak to our needs, wants, and desires. Silencing these opinions, or worse, only sharing them with people we know will agree with us, removes us unfairly from our communities and does us a personal disservice. Because, guess what, the people making decisions about laws, ordinances, and the government of our town ARE political. And the only way they know what matters to us is for us to tell them. And the only way that our neighbors know what we want is for us to tell them.

It’s time for us ALL to become political. There are lots of ways to make this happen. Here’s one.

Public comment is available at the Council meetings each month. All you need to do is visit this LINK to sign up. You have three minutes to let the Council and everyone in attendance hear your voice.

Do you like something you see? Tell them.

Do you think something needs to change? Tell them.

Do you disagree with something? Tell them.

Will you always get what you want? No. There are over 8,000 of us in Charlestown. Pleasing everyone is impossible. But being political means monitoring the government process, letting your voice be heard, calling those who represent us out when they have wronged us, and commending them when they do good things.

You’ll see me often at council meetings. Occasionally I’ll make public comment. Often my public comment will be one of disagreement. But you’ll also see me being kind in my disagreement. I can oppose the decision of a council member and still demonstrate compassion for his sick father. I can dispute the Council’s lack of action on deserted homes in Pleasant Ridge and still thank them for improving our sidewalks. I can disagree with the Mayor’s plan for redevelopment, and still appreciate kind words of condolence he offered when my family suffered the loss of a loved one.

But you will not see me call names, speak over, or make fun of anyone with whom I disagree.

I AM political, but I will never step over your right to be political, too.

 

Charlestown City Council Meeting 12/04/2017

Following is a summary of the City Council Meeting from 12/04/2017:

  1. Call to order
  2. Pledge of Allegiance led by Ms. King, a senior at Charlestown high school who will attend the University of Louisville in the fall.
  3. Invocation led by LC McCawley of Charlestown Church of God
  4. Roll Call – all present
    • Ted Little
    • Brian Hester
    • Mike Vaughn
    • Tina Barnes
    • Eric Vaughn
  5. Approval of Agenda
    • Tina Barnes requested to add a motion to the agenda that asked the council to submit a letter to Pleasant Ridge Redevelopment, LLC requesting that all vacant houses owned by the development company be removed within 60 days of the notice
      1. Motion not seconded
      2. Motion died
    • Motion made to approve agenda made by Eric Vaughn and seconded by Ted Little
    • No discussion
    • Motion to approve agenda as provided without the amendment passed 4/1 with Tina Barnes objecting.
  6. Approval of Minutes from 11/06/2017 meeting
    • Motion made by Mike Vaughn
    • Motion seconded by Brian Hester
    • No discussion
    • Motion passed unanimously
  7. Approval of Claims
    • Motion made by Eric Vaughn
    • Motion seconded by Brian Hester
    • No discussion
    • Motion passed unanimously
  8. Approval of Payroll Allowance Docket from 11/05/2017-12/02/2017
    • Motion to approve made by Brian Little
    • Motion seconded by Mike Vaughn
    • No discussion
    • Motion passed unanimously
  9. Public Commen
    • Darlene Williams – 1219 Lindsey Street – Began by reading scripture, Matthew 6:24 “no man can serve two masters.” Read email excerpts between Bob Hall and John Neace that discussed election of new council in 2015, campaign contributions from John Neace to the Charlestown Republicans. Noted that the Republican party has not provided a detail of spending and campaign contributions since 2014. Addressed the relationship that existed between Bob Hall and John Neace prior to redevelopment. Discussed the redevelopment plans for Pleasant Ridge. When notified that her time was out, she asked why people who come with plans for redevelopment are allotted more than three minutes but citizens only get three minutes.
    • Melissa Crawford – 344 Clark Road – Addressed the vacant homes in Pleasant Ridge that are owned by Pleasant Ridge Redevelopment, LLC (John Neace). Mentioned that the homes are safety risks. They fear fire. Addressed the Judge ruling of a preliminary injunction against the city for unfair fines levied on people in the community. Called for the city to send a letter to Pleasant Ridge Redevelopment, LLC requesting that the homes be torn down because the presence of the homes is a safety concern and the homes drive down property values. Challenged Attorney Gillenwater’s statement to WHAS that the conditions in PR today developed over years and noted that things are much more hazardous today than in the past few years. Asked that Tina Barnes make her motion to send the letter yet again to tear down the vacant houses.
  10. Mayor Response to public comment – Mayor Hall elected to respond to the public comments made.
    • He admitted that he and the council members campaigned and collected money from John Neace and from other supporters. He said this is standard behavior for political campaigns.
    • In regard to John Neace’s financial commitment, Mayor Hall said it related to the development of the road that will connect PR to 403.
    • In regard to the empty houses, Mayor Hall agreed that they are empty but denied claims that crime has increased in the area because of their presence. Said in the last year crime is down in Charlestown. Claimed that this is a result of a decrease in the PR neighborhood. Noted that there have been 24 instances of trespasses, with 36 and 25 in the last two years respectively. Mayor Hall noted that trespassing and squatting is an issue that the City has dealt with over the past several years.
    • Addressed “rhetoric” of the last 18 months. Noted that nobody has been evicted form their homes in PR. Properties have changed ownership and new owners have terminated leases. Noted that new owners have allotted extra time for tenants to save money so that they could transition more smoothly. Noted instances where new owners have helped with their tenants’ debt to help them get new housing.
    • Noted that over the past four years the homeowner’s association in PR has made public comment nearly every month to let the city know they disagree with their methods. Said that redevelopment is a city-wide issue and that the council must take into consideration the perspectives of all people. Said that the City will be careful to make sure that people who have to move will be able to do so.
    • Claimed that three methamphetamine labs, multiple drug dealers, and a murder for hire plan have been dealt with in the past four years in PR. Noted that a man died in a house of a meth overdose and that it took the police 6-weeks to identify the man because he was hiding in the neighborhood under an alias. Noted that animal control calls have decreased in the PR community.
    • Noted that the city has always been concerned about the safety of the PR community.
    • Said that he understands that people in PR association and those disagreeing with redevelopment. Assured that in one year things will look very different in Pleasant Ridge and that it will be an improvement. Noted that redevelopment is a process, not an event. Noted that he did not wish to criticize the right for people to object. Asked to move forward
  11. Treva Hodges asked to be recognized by the Mayor. Mayor Hall granted permission. Treva Hodges approached the stand with permission and asked
    • “Will you please send the letter that John Hampton outlined in his agreement requesting that those houses that they purchased be torn down in 60 days like they said that they would do?”
    • Answer from Mayor Hall, “What I will answer is what I answered a minute ago. That there will be a procedure with this and a year from now you’ll notice a huge difference in what is going on.”
  12. Council member Tina Barnes interjected in the attempt to move forward and challenged the Mayor to address the abandoned homes in PR. She expressed frustration that the Mayor indicated that it would take longer. She asked the Council members why they would not vote on sending the letter. Ted Little offered a response that the ordinance about PR does not address what she is asking. Tina Barnes corrected that she’s referring to a letter, not an ordinance. Mayor Hall noted that this is an issue for the Board of Public Works, not the City Council. Council member Eric Vaughn also commented and sought clarification. Mayor Hall clarified that the letter Tina Barnes is referring to is a letter that says Pleasant Ridge Redevelopment, LLC will tear down the houses within 60 days if they receive notice from the city but noted that the Board of Public Works is the place for that action. Mayor Hall claimed that in a year things will be different.
  13. Resolution 2017-R-9 that asks the city to commit to the development of an interlocal SWAT team that is a combined effort between Clark County Sheriff, Floyd County Sheriff Department, Harrison County Sheriff Department, City of Clarksville, and City of Charlestown. Would allow mutual aid and a joint team. Funding provided by each individual unit. Approved by Board of Public Works and Safety this morning and passed a resolution recommending that the Council approve. Noted that all other jurisdictions have approved.
    • Motion made by Ted Little
    • Motion seconded by Mike Vaughn
    • No discussion
    • Motion approved unanimously
  14. Mayor played a phone message from a resident from Deputy, Indiana who had visited town recently with her nephew and wanted to let the city know how much she appreciated the Christmas lights.
  15. Motion to adjourn
    • Motion made by Eric Vaughn
    • Motion seconded by Ted Little
    • No discussion
    • Motion approved unanimously

Meeting duration 33:58

Listen to the audio of the meeting here: 

A Win for Pleasant Ridge!

Today Scott County Judge Jason Mount issued a preliminary injunction against the City of Charlestown. This injunction is a win for the residents of Pleasant Ridge who have sued the City in order to keep their homes. At the bottom of this post I have provided downloadable links to both the Order and the Findings of Fact in the case. Following is a summary of some of the important elements that are worth noting:

  • The Judge finds that a clear relationship exists between the City and developer John Neace despite the City’s repeated claims that such a relationship does not exist. Sections 29-38 on pages 6-8 cites several emails and meetings that occurred between the two and the Judge notes three times that “The Mayor could not recall sending an email to any other developer…There are no such emails in the record.”
  • The Judge finds that Mayor Hall has unfairly warned residents not to fix their homes because the long-term plan is to remove all of the homes, even those in good condition. See Sections 69-72 on pages 14-15. 
  • The Judge explains that the injunction is issued on three of the four merits/standards of the case. The only exception relates to Indiana’s Unsafe Building Law (UBL). Here the Judge notes that the UBL operates separately from the City’s Property Maintenance Code (PMC). It also notes in the following section that the City is unfairly applying the PMC. (See sections 77-94 on pages 17-20)
  • The Judge finds that the City’s PMC does not allow them to issue immediate fines. The City must offer owners a fair opportunity to correct violations before issuing fines to those who willfully refuse to comply with the PMC. The City cites public safety and “statistical risk of fire” as justification for the fines and demolition policy, but the Judge notes that allowing John Neace and Pleasant Ridge Redevelopment, LLC to leave their properties standing is “irrational” to meeting this goal. What is rational is to allow owners time to repair their homes. Furthermore, the Judge notes that allowing the vacant homes to stand for over a year “CREATES health and safety problems and acts to drive down the value and use of the properties.” See sections 95-111 on pages 20-23.
  • The Judge finds that the City treated its Residents differently and less favorably than the Developer. See sections 112-130 on pages 23-27. 
  • Finally, the Judge mandates that the City must either charge all fees to the Developer or waive the fees for everyone, including the Residents. The Judge notes that the fees on the Developer now amount to Millions of Dollars since the properties have been left standing for over a year and have accumulated fines daily.

It is also worth noting the following:

  • The Residents of Pleasant Ridge do not object to the fair application of code to promote the safety and wellbeing of Charlestown citizens. Sections 75-76 on pages 16-17.
  • The Judge notes that Indiana laws on Eminent Domain do not allow for the City to use the process and turn the properties acquired over to a private developer. Section 126-128 page 27.

Read for yourself what an objective, non-biased member of the judiciary has to say about the abuses occurring in this neighborhood:

The Finding of fact discussed above is here: Findings of Fact and Conclusions

Order is Here

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