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