Demo dispute

Published 8:42 pm Saturday, March 26, 2011

Old building: This home at 119 North St., within sight of city hall, rests on bricks, cinder blocks and the bare ground. The city will demolish it as soon as utilities are shut off.

Administration and historical group disagree on demolition

A building on North Street in downtown Suffolk rests on concrete blocks and the bare ground.

A “condemned” notice with a November date is stapled to the piece of plywood covering what was once the doorway. Above it, a bright green piece of paper from the city’s Planning and Community Development department warns would-be trespassers that the structure “is unsafe or unfit for habitation.”

The owners — Suffolk Commercial Properties, LLC out of Norfolk — have been assessed civil penalties totaling more than $5,000 for multiple property maintenance violations, according to a March 21 letter from City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn to City Council members.

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Meetings between city staff and the owners “have not produced tangible results,” Cuffee-Glenn wrote. The city has no choice, she said, but to pursue demolition of the structure, which stands within sight of city hall.

But the Historic Landmarks Commission thought otherwise. At a February meeting, the council-appointed commission voted 4-2 against demolition.

As it turns out, that particular body’s approval wasn’t needed. Its vote was sought only as a courtesy, because it is not required under the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code, which governs historic structures that are in imminent danger of collapsing, city officials said last week.

Therefore, the city is going ahead with demolition after multiple requests that the owner repair or raze the building.

Further delays “could contribute to a catastrophic event causing possible damage to life and property,” wrote Donald Bennett, a housing and property maintenance official with the city.

The city will proceed with demolition immediately after receiving notification that utilities have been shut off, Cuffee-Glenn wrote. The city attorney’s office has reviewed the situation and concurs with the recommendation to tear it down, she added.