Valley council discusses dilapidated properties

Published 6:49 pm Tuesday, November 27, 2018

VALLEY — At its Monday meeting, the Valley City Council confirmed the cost of demolition and imposed liens on four properties and delayed such action on two other properties, giving owner Gary Gerber some extra time to prove some claims of unfair treatment he made at the meeting.

In a public hearing prior to the regular session, Code Enforcement Officer Reid Riley discussed each property being considered to confirm costs and impose liens. If the property owner doesn’t pay the lien, they can lose their land. The city can, in turn, sell it to someone else.

The cost of demolition has significantly increased in recent years due to so many of these aging structures having asbestos in them. Under Alabama Department of Environmental Management rules, a private contractor must be hired to safely remove the asbestos, according to EPA regulations. There’s a flat fee of $5,000 to do this and this is passed on to the property owner’s lien. Due to the asbestos removal being added in, the lien on a property on Railroad Street was $6,750, the liens on properties on South 1st Avenue and California Road $5,750 each. A lien in the amount of $5,964.95 was imposed on a property on Williams Boulevard. Two structures had to come down on this site.

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A lien in the amount of $5,750 was proposed for property owned by Gerber on South 1st Street. The same lien was proposed on another property owned by Gerber and David Ennis on the same street.

In speaking to the council, Gerber claimed that there was no notification posted on the property prior to the city taking action in bringing down the houses. He said it was his understanding that the property was OK as long as he kept the grass cut. He presented photos to the council of that being the case.

Gerber said that he is 72 years of age and a combat veteran. “I really don’t want to be here tonight, but I feel like I have to,” he said.

He showed members of the council photos of a house on the same street he claimed was in worse condition that his houses had been.

“It’s on our list,” Mayor Leonard Riley said, suggesting pending action to take it down.

Reid Riley said that the problem wasn’t the grass it was the structures themselves. “They were in bad shape,” he said.

“I had fixed the roof,” Gerber countered. “There were still structural issues, and I have photos of the interior,” Riley responded.

Gerber disagreed with that and cited a letter from City Attorney John Ben Jones for leading him to believe that no pending action was at stake.

Reid Riley then said that the city attorney’s letter did not set the 45-day time limit. That letter, he said, had come from his office.

Such a letter from the code enforcement officer spells out what the property owner must do to get the dwelling(s) they own back up to city codes.

“Reid does a good job in complying to the rules,” Jones said. “He was patient in trying to work with him. It appears that these properties were public nuisances.”

Gerber maintained that he’d never spoken to Reid Riley, claiming that he’d spoken with a Mr. Carter on the phone about this.

“It’s still your responsibility to get in touch with the person whose name is on the notification (Reid Riley),” Jones said. “He’s the one who handles it.”

Mayor Riley then asked Reid to go and get the folder he’d kept with those properties. It’s routine procedure to have interior and exterior photos of such properties before the city takes action to bring them down.

City Attorney Jones then recommended deferring action on these two properties until the next council meeting, which takes place at 6 p.m. next Monday, Dec. 3.

“We’ll see if Mr. Carter can be here to discuss it,” he said. “We need to know what went on between Mr. Gerber and Mr. Carter.”

“That makes more sense to me,” said Gerber, appearing to be in agreement with the delay.

Most people at the meeting assumed Gerber was referring to Planning and Development Director Travis Carter. When asked about it after the meeting, Carter said he didn’t remember ever taking to Gerber on a dilapidated property matter, saying that these matters are handled by code enforcement.

It appears that Gerber has from now until next Monday evening to come up with the person he says he talked to and for that person to back up his story.