- Paris Flash
- Real Estate
By CHARLES RICHARDS
Mayor AJ Hashmi will recommend Monday night to the Paris City Council that it appoint a building permits “variance commissioner” authorized to override code regulations that are too severe for a city the size of Paris.
State and federal officials allow an occasional waiver of rules, but builders, contractors, owners of residential and business property, and small businessmen told him during two recent private meetings that the city staff makes no attempt to work with anyone.
“We need to have codes, but we need to adapt ourselves to knowing that we are a smaller city. We are not Dallas or New York City,” Hashmi said.
The city has a Zoning Board of Adjustments that hears complaints from citizens on zoning regulations and can grant an exception if it feels the argument is justified.
The mayor said something similar should be made available to people who want an exception from a building, plumbing, electrical or other code.
“It’s not a separate paid job. The person would make himself available and he will make the determination based upon what his experience has been,” Hashmi said.
“If it’s a small issue that can be helped, this variance commissioner would have the power to issue the building permit then and there if he feels it is justified,” the mayor added.
The item, midway through a 25-item agenda, is not an action item. The mayor said he’s throwing the idea out for the council’s consideration.
The council meeting will start at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the council chambers at 107 E. Kaufman St.
Also on the agenda:
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By CHARLES RICHARDS
The city’s Building and Standards Commission will have a public hearing at 4 p.m. Monday to determine whether the owners of five downtown buildings have made the repairs ordered by the panel seven weeks ago.
Following the collapse of a building in mid-January two blocks east of the downtown Plaza, interim city manager Gene Anderson cordoned off 11 other properties that he determined to be unsafe or substandard.
On Monday, the commission will hear from code enforcement supervisor Robert Tally and from owners of the five buildings listed below, all of which during a Feb. 20 meeting were given 30 days to make their properties safe.
The six other properties are not at issue on Monday because of repairs either already completed or in satisfactory progress.
Failure to comply could subject an owner to civil penalties of up to $1,000 a day, although such a penalty has never been enforced in Paris. Commission chairman Don Wilson has asked the panel to consider levying civil penalties of $10 a day for the first month of non-compliance, to be increased to $20 a day thereafter.
260 S. MAIN ST. — Vacant apartment complex opposite the old Gibraltar Hotel, owned by Boomer Trends Magazine Inc. (Kenny Kammer). Given 30 days to get a structural engineer’s report to determine the safety and stability of the building and parapet. The roof has fallen in, and Kammer said his plan is to patch it up and sell the building. He said youths breaking into his building have contributed to the building’s deterioration.
347 BONHAM ST. — Owned by Tommy Adams. Given 30 days to bring back to the commission a plan to repair the roof and loose bricks, or to demolish the building. The roof is missing, and the front façade is deteriorated. The owner said half of the roof was gone when he bought it.
107 GRAND AVE. – Owned by Lavonne Poteet. Given 30 days to repair a deteriorated awning. The owner has died since the property originally came before the commission’s attention. The owner’s daughter has said she wants to sell the property.
134 SW FIRST ST. — Owned by Truby Family Revocable Trust. Given 30 days to repair and secure all windows and the back door. Talley said the awning was deteriorated and a window frame was hanging over the sidewalk. The person renting the building complied with Talley’s request to fix the awning and tuck it back into the frame, and to remove the falling window frame. Talley further asked that repairs be made to windows and to the back door.
37 CLARKSVILLE ST. — Owned by Ben Faber. Given 30 days to address safety issues; to remove or fix the awning, overhanging rock and cap stone; replace missing windows; and secure the roof. Talley reported in February that there was a hole by the front glass “that you can see into the basement.” He also reported: “The building is deteriorating, has water damage, the awning frame is broke, top of building concrete cracking and chipping, rock hanging size of baseball, roof is leaking, windows are missing, and building is not safe.”
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Don “Pinky” Wilson, chairman of Paris’ Building and Standards Commission, and member Wendell Moore are shown at the exploratory meeting at which members of the city council’s Task Force on Substandard Structures were selected in early February. (eParisExtra.com photo by Charles Richards)
By CHARLES RICHARDS
Repairs have been made a number of downtown structures that the City of Paris labeled unsafe in the aftermath of a building’s collapse.
Mayor AJ Hashmi created a special Task Force on Substandard Structures and ordered interim city manager Gene Anderson to investigate reports that the city’s code enforcement office ignored repeated warnings from members of the Building and Standards Commission about the building that collapsed on Jan. 16.
One of the mayor’s first directives was that the city should resume scheduling monthly meetings of the panel, which had last met in August of last year. He also ordered interim city manager Gene Anderson to come up with a list immediately of other buildings that the commission had considered unsafe.
Don “Pinky” Wilson – vice chairman of the task force and chairman of the city’s Building and Standards Commission –presided over a meeting on Feb. 20 in which owners of the structures were given 30 to 90 days to repair their buildings, under the threat of a civil penalty in the amount of $1,000 a day.
Still under scrutiny is the long-vacant apartment building at 260 S. Main St., across the street from the old Gibraltar Hotel building. The roof has fallen in, some of the windows are missing, and there is water damage. On Feb. 20, the owner was given 30 days to get a structural engineer’s report to determine the safety and stability.
The owner of a building at 270 Southwest First Street, next to Swaim Hardware and across the street north from the skateboard park in Market Square has a collapsed roof and some of the outside wall is compromised. The owner is finalizing a repair plan.
One of the major accomplishments of the mayor’s task force is the reinstatement of meetings of the Building and Standards Commission.
Although it is scheduled to meet on the third Monday of each month, the city government suspended the meetings last August, after a court ordered the City of Dallas to pay a the owner of a dilapidated house about $100,000 after tearing down the structure.
A series of 30-to-90 day demolition or repair orders that the commission had issued at its Aug. 25, 2011, fell through the cracks.
At its March meeting two weeks ago, the panel looked again at pictures taken by code enforcement of about a dozen dilapidated residential structures and re-instituted “you demolish them or we will” orders that had been instituted last August.
Wilson has urged that the commission be brought situations before they reach the hopeless state — situations in which the commission will be giving residents 30 days to repair — not 30 days to demolish.
“Everything that came before us was absolutely beyond repair,” Wilson said.
“You can look at the side of the homes, the blocking and floors are sagging, and what they would have to spend to fix them up, it makes it absolutely beyond repair.”
Downtown Paris – both residential and business – was destroyed by the Fire of 1916, and as a result Paris has the largest collection of nearly 100-year old structures of any city in the United States.
“Years ago, they said, ‘Oh, Bois D’Arc will last forever.’ And apparently it will last for about 100 years, because that’s what we’re into now. Especially, in the black land, houses are literally laying down,” he said.
“We’ve got a bunch of 96-year-old structures, and it’s gotten to where I don’t see how we’re going to maintain the core of our city without some real help,” Wilson said.
Wilson said Jean Schweers, who is on the substandard structures task force with him, reported a recent conversation with an acquaintance in Dallas who is an assistant city attorney.
Schweers said after she laid out everything that the Paris task force has been struggling with, the Dallas official told her, “You’re doing everything the City of Dallas does, and let me tell you something, we can’t fix our problems, and we have a lot more money available than you do. We cannot throw enough money to fix it.”
Wilson said he thinks the Building and Standards Commission is moving forward now that it has spent several weeks trying to make everything work the way it should.
“I think we’re moving forward. The staff is doing what we asked them to do, and we’re on line as far as getting all the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed,” Wilson says.
“And we’re following the rules and following the ordinances as described, with good minutes. I think we’re doing great right now,” he said.
One of Wilson’s concerns is more emphasis by code enforcement on homes before they reach the stage that the only solution is demolition.
“We have discussed with the (code enforcement) staff the need to start moving quicker on the holes in the roof, or whatever. It would be cheaper for the city to help with the roofing, if the people aren’t able to do it, possibly using grant money. We think if we attack the roof, we can keep these houses from deteriorating further,” he said.
Under new guidelines addressing the Dallas lawsuit, anyone who is given an order to demolish a building found to be substandard “or we’ll do it for you,” is informed he has up to 30 days to appeal such a ruling to district court in Lamar County.
Absent an appeal within the time period, the commission’s order “is final and binding.”
Serving with Wilson on the Building and Standards Commission are Vicki Ballard, Lee Ann Barbee, Ryan Lassiter, Wendell Moore, Johnny Norris and Zack Saffle.
When Mayor Hashmi established the task force to investigate whether the city was properly attacking its substandard building problem, he said he would like the 11-member panel to wrap up its work in 30 days or so.
Now more than two months old, the panel has wrapped up its business, says its chairman, city councilman John Wright. He says he will give a final report to the city council next Monday.
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Auctioneer Frankie Norwood solicits bids midway through a live auction during Paris’ first annual Fireman’s Ball. (eParisExtra.com photos by Charles Richards)
By CHARLES RICHARDS
Paris civic leaders gathered Saturday night at the Love Civic Center for a look-back at the 1916 fire that destroyed downtown Paris — particularly the efforts of the firefighters who battled the fire and the community’s determined effort over the following year to rebuild.
Proceeds for the $25-a-plate Firemen’s Ball – which included a meal and live and silent auction – are earmarked for an annual community-wide “Paris, Texas Fire Festival” — the first of which is planned for June 2013.
Auctioneer Frankie Norwood, who is also a member of the Paris Junior College board of regents, presided over the live auction.
The festival, according to City of Paris recreation director Sally Wright, “is to show our city’s resilience in how strong we came back after the devastating fire of 1916.”
Images and memorabilia from both the Paris Fire Department and the Fire of 1916 were on display at Saturday night’s ball. The live auction focused on memorabilia from the fire 96 years ago.
City councilman John Wright was the high bidder on a 9-week-old dalmatian puppy. As the bidding went up, he hesitated to bid again but with his granddaughter looking at him pleadingly, Wright persisted and won the auction.
Fire chief Ronnie Grooms was the high bidder for a table, built by firefighters, with the department logo emblazoned across the top.
City councilman Matt Frierson was the high bidder for an “Aggie fire hydrant” that was painted by another city councilman, Edwin Pickle. Both are Aggies.
John Fuston of Paris, who is a retired firefighter and fire historian, spoke for about 30 minutes, giving a first-person account of his experiences on Sept. 11, 2001, as a member of the Prince Georges County Fire Department in suburban Washington, D.C.
Fuston said he remembers everything about that day just as if it were yesterday.
After watching on television the coverage on the planes that flew into the Twin Towers in New York City, and then learning that another plane had flown into the Pentagon, the concern was that more planes would be flying into the White House or the Capitol in Washington, D.C., and Fuston’s department went on full alert, sending both firefighters and apparatus into the capital and to the Pentagon.
The Blackwater Woods Band provided music during the meal. The Billion Dollar Blues Band provided live music to dance to.
Crawford’s Hole in the Wall catered the event with a meal of chicken fried steak, potatoes, and green beans.
The Paris Police Department provided the four-member honor guard.
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