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Arvin Starrett (left) is shown Monday as he presides over his final meeting as chairman of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission. Because of a term limit policy, Starrett is stepping down after 10 years with the commission, all of it as chairman. He choked up several times in saying goodbye, noting the commission’s achievements over the past decade. Also shown (from left) are commission members Paul Denney, Britin Bostick and Douglas Cox. (eParisExtra! photo by Charles Richards.)
By CHARLES RICHARDS
Arvin Starrett, whose name is synonymous with historic preservation efforts in Paris, said an emotional farewell on Monday as he presided over his final meeting of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission..
Starrett, 54, is leaving the board because of a recent change in city policy that limits members of city boards and commissions to two successive three-year terms.
He is the only chairman the HPC has known over its decade of existence.
“My thanks to all who have served or are serving on the commission over the past decade. Parisians who visit downtown find a much different place than that of 10 years ago,” Starrett said in a Facebook post on Sunday. “What a joy it has been to help to see that our ‘place’ will matter for future generations!”
Monday’s final meeting with the commission was a bittersweet day for Starrett.
After Starrett guided the board through a short agenda that included approval of a new sign for the downtown Farmers Market, the final item was the commission’s recognition of Starrett’s service to the board.
He had some prepared remarks for his exit, and he choked up several times. Early on, he paused for about 15 seconds before composing himself enough to continue.
“It’s been an honor to serve on this commission since its inception, and to see the wonderful things that have taken place in our historic neighborhood,” said Starrett, who is owner of Starrett Funeral Home.
“Our efforts have not been without struggle. I shall never forget the litany of public hearings and some of the more colorful characters who appeared in protest. It’s been reassuring to see many of those who had fears of what might happen become active proponents of our efforts,” he said.
“Building after building have been stripped of inappropriate façade and restored to its original grandeur,” he said. “The commission has played a part in restoration efforts on our downtown Culbertson Fountain and the complete restoration of the Peristyle in Bywaters Park.”
In closing, Starrett asked that everyone who follows on the Historic Preservation Commission remember four things:
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An Oncor worker uses a dry chemical fire extinguisher to put out a fire in a transmitter that “blew its top” during 100+ temperatures about 7 p.m. Monday on Kaufman Street one block south of Paris’ downtown plaza. A couple of large booms were heard in the Paris City Council chambers during the council’s meeting Monday night. Several Paris fire department personnel rushed to the scene, but poured no water on the fire because that would have exacerbated the situation. (eParisExtra! photo by Charles Richards)
BY CHARLES RICHARDS
The Paris City Council tonight will discuss what to do about properties throughout the city that are overcome in weeds and high grass — and never get mowed unless the City of Paris itself does it.
City manager John Godwin has come up with two options for turning things around, and Mayor AJ Hashmi says he has a suggestion as well.
“Clean-up of the city is of grave importance to me,” Godwin told members of the council in a June12 workshop, during his first month on the job.
“Unless you provide a clean-looking city, it will appear that the people here do not care, and industry will not want to come here,” he said.
Like most other Texas cities, Paris has established certain standards for property maintenance. If a property owner fails to meet the standards, he is notified of the violation and given time to being the property into compliance.
Many property owners do in fact comply, but many others do not, Godwin noted.
In such cases, the city typically abates the nuisance itself.
This usually amounts to city workers mowing a property, or contracting with a private company to do the mowing. Once work is complete, the city bills the property owner for the work, including an administrative fee – which amounts to a sort of fine.
The council will be presented three options tonight, one of which is to continue under the present policy, in which the property owner is given no flexibility on payment of the code liens.
Godwin is opposed to that.
“The city has got to come up with ways to get some these properties back on the tax roll. If the city just keeps mowing these lots forever and you keep piling liens on them forever, nothing’s going to change,” city manager John Godwin said in a recent interview with eParisExtra!
“We have to do something to get property in the hands of private property owners who are going to take care of the property. Whatever we can do to make that happen, I’m for.”
Human nature is for the city to insist that the property owner pay for the work that city workers did to maintain the property.
“You want to get your money back, but sometimes those liens get bigger and bigger and bigger, and it gets in the way of things,” Godwin said.
“Sometimes, it makes sense to say, ‘You know what, if you’ll pay 10 cents on the dollar, we’ll get rid of the lien so you can start mowing this every week instead of us going on forever.”
Flexibility with the code liens might help the property sell and return to the tax roll and productive use, Godwin said.
In other places he has worked, Godwin said, he “just made those decisions on my own” to provide a property owner an option that might help the property to sell and return to the tax roll and productive use.
One of the two options to allowing the liens to grow is for the council to authorize the city manager to waive any or all of owed amounts as the specific situation dictates, Godwin said.
A second option for the council, the city manager said, is for the council to reserve that right for itself on a case-by-case basis.
Hashmi agrees the city should do what it can to get these properties back on the tax roll, but he has a problem with either the manager or the council deciding on a case-by-case basis which liens to write off and which to not write off.
“Someone will complain that the manager ‘wrote this person’s lien off, but not mine.’ Neither do I want to be in the position of being told, ‘You know, this was Dr. Hashmi’s friend, and all of his liens got waived, and mine didn’t.’
The mayor said he would like an ordinance that would spell out when liens on a property could be forgiven, giving the property owner incentive to sell the property and get the property back on the tax roll.
Hashmi does have a proposal for the 115 properties the city already owns as a result of having seized because of non-payment by the owners of liens and taxes.
He would like for the city to offer for sale at public auction all 115 of the properties – “taxes abated and clear of all liens,” provided the owner keep the property for at least one year.
To discourage someone interested in buying property cheaply, then turning around and selling to someone else for a profit, Hashmi said he would propose that the liens be put back on anyone selling within the first year.
“Also, the lien will be put right back on if you don’t comply with city code,” Hashmi said.
Neighbors would have the right of first refusal.
“If there are two or more neighbors interested in the property, the bidding would be limited to them. If the neighbors are not interested, then it goes to a public open auction,” Hashmi said.
“The property must go onto the tax roll immediately for the amount of the purchase price at auction, but buyers would be rewarded for any improvements.
“The reward would be, if you build on that property – suppose you build a house or whatever — you will be given the money back that you paid for the lot. If you bought it for $250, you would get that $250 back,” Hashmi said.
“Further, for five years, you would have an abatement for five years on any improvements made. For five years, you would pay taxes only on the lot, not for what is built on it,” the mayor added. “The abatement would go to the first owner of the property for the first five years.”
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This is the old Paris Police Department building on Bonham Street and West Eighth St. after city crews cut down some trees and spruced up others prior to a citywide bus tour by the new city council following last year’s elections. (eParisExtra! photo by Charles Richards)
BY CHARLES RICHARDS
The City of Paris is one step closer to getting the blighted, long-vacant, and long-neglected Cherry Street Manor at 22nd Street and East Cherry Street torn down.
“Apparently, a federal judge has lifted a stay that prevented the city from even going onto the property,” Dr. AJ Hashmi said Sunday.
“You’ll remember that when I became mayor (in June of 2011), we sent a letter saying this is a hazardous building and you need to take the stay off,” Hashmi said.
The federal government has indicated it is not interested in doing anything with the property, Hashmi said.
Police have said the former apartment complex is a site that officers have to patrol on a regular basis because over the years it has become a scene of occasional to frequent illegal activity.
“We will have to tear it down ourselves, but I don’t want to even get started on that until we get our own asbestos abatement crew and our own demolition crew in place so that we are not spending half a million dollars to do it,” the mayor said Sunday.
At tonight’s meeting of the Paris City Council, one item on the agenda is a report by finance director (and former interim city manager) Gene Anderson, whom Hashmi asked to research what it would cost the City of Paris to have its own crews certified to remove asbestos.
Then, the mayor says, the city could put in place its own crews, qualified to abate asbestos problems and to tear down dilapidated structures at a significant cost savings.
In the agenda packet that each council member received in advance of tonight’s city council meeting, is Anderson’s estimate on what it would cost the city to develop its own abatement crew.
“Based on discussions with the state, the City would need all four types of licenses if we wanted to perform a project from start to finish, at a cost of:
Those costs total $7,553, assuming only one person in each of the four categories were trained and certified.
“Those costs estimates cover license fees, physical exams, tuition fees, mileage, hotel costs, and meal expenses,” Anderson says.
“Development of such a program could require additional workers and equipment,” Anderson says. “Those issues have not been evaluated. … If the council wishes to pursue this idea, further study and planning could be made during the budget process.”
Anderson said asbestos abatement is required only for “public buildings,” as defined in the Texas Administrative Code. That definition covers all buildings that are subject to public occupancy or to which the general public has access.
Demolition of a residential structure does not trigger the asbestos regulations, Anderson noted.
It has become a time-consuming and expensive project to have large dilapidated structures taken down because of the requirement that any asbestos problem be abated first. That’s a process the city is not presently certified to do.
Two such projects in the last four years:
After years of the saying it would just cost too much to take care of, both blighted complexes were removed at a combined cost to the city of more than a million dollars. The delay was largely because the city didn’t have the personnel or experience to itself abate the asbestos problem.
Now, the city has a similar problem with Cherry Street Manor and with the old police building at West Eighth Street and Bonham Road, which has exposed asbestos because of the copper that has been ripped out of interior walls since the building was vacated in April of 2006.
The city council was looking at renovating the old police building as a possible new home for the city/county health department, but discovered that because of the asbestos problem, it would be almost as expensive as building a brand new building.
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By CHARLES RICHARDS
The City of Paris has installed in the 3800 block of FM 195 the city’s sixth outdoor warning siren, Paris police chief Bob Hundley announced Friday.
“This location will serve the area of north Paris and northeast Paris and along the FM 195 area. The 135 db siren rotates and has a one-mile range,” Hundley said.
The city’s newest warning siren is on the property of the Lamar County Water Supply, which agreed to a city easement for the placement of the siren.
Like the city’s five other warning sirens, the new siren is designed primarily to warn people who are outside when severe weather is threatening the city.
People who hear the sirens should always check with local media outlets for more information, Hundley said.
The original five sirens were installed shortly after the tornado that hit Paris in April 1982. Before the siren installations, emergency vehicles were assigned routes to drive slowly with lights and sirens on to warn people that a severe storm was imminent.
“This particular siren is powered by DC current from batteries instead of commercial power that could be lost before a storm turns severe or during the storm,” Hundley said. “This siren is also solar powered since the battery component needs only a ‘trickle charge’ to keep the siren functional. The siren can run up to 18 minutes on battery.”
Radio programming and testing will take place over the next few weeks before the location becomes fully functional. Once operational, the siren will be tested on the last Friday of the month with all other siren locations. The siren cost was a capital outlay item in this year’s city budget in the amount of $24,315.16.
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