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Repairs are completed on several downtown Paris structures that were under scrutiny

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

eParisExtra.com

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.

Since then:

  • The west wall of a building at 365 Bonham St. where bricks had come loose and were falling has been repaired.
  • A deteriorated awning in front of a building at 310 Grand Ave. has been taken down.
  • A small building at 231 Grand Ave. whose roof had collapsed has been torn down and is now a parking lot.
  • A garage (which had been crushed by a fallen tree) across from the southeast corner of Bywaters Park has been repaired.
  • The store front and plate glass window at 37 Clarksville St., at the northwest corner of Clarksville and Southeast First Street has been secured and work is ongoing on the roof, awning and other issues.
  • A concrete awning that was chipping has been re-poured on the south side of the old Vault Bar & Grill at 33 E. Plaza, and other work is in progress.

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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