Mayor says he ‘misspoke’
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Atmore Mayor Jim Staff said this week that a miscommunication during a recent interview with an Atmore News reporter was the catalyst for reports that the city had ordered the demolition of two downtown buildings.
Staff noted during the August 24 interview that the awnings on each building were rotted and falling onto city sidewalks and into city streets, but when asked what the city had directed the property owners to do, the mayor indicated that demolition was the only option offered.
“We’ve notified the owners of both buildings that they have a choice, take them down or the city will,” Staff said. “They’re both unsafe, and they’re both eyesores.”
Staff said Tuesday morning, September 4, that, possibly due to the pace of the telephone interview or distractions during it, he hadn’t realized that his comments might have sounded like a demolition order.
“It was just the awnings, that’s all I meant,” he explained. “We might have been talking fast, or I was doing something else, and I just misspoke. I wasn’t talking about the whole buildings, just the awnings.”
The mayor also pointed out during the initial interview that demolition of the South Main building would be the more expensive and disrupting of the two, noting that portions of East Nashville and South Main streets would have to be closed while the structure was being disassembled.
He noted, too, that both buildings are in such a state of disrepair and such potential safety hazards that razing them is the only viable solution to the problem.
“It would cost more to repair them than it would to tear them down,” he said. “They’re both dangerous situations, and something has to be done about them.”
City officials released Tuesday copies of the separate “Declaration of Emergency Repair or Demolition” sent to Elizabeth Wurst Colbert, who owns the former First National Bank building where Main Street Jewelers most recently operated, and Randy Nichols, owner of the Trammell Street building that in the past served as a warehouse for Atmore Recap Shop and home to Lee Mercantile and Faircloth Grocery.
Both letters were issued by City Codes Enforcement Officer Greg Vaughn and each was mostly concerned with problems regarding the respective awnings, validating the mayor’s contention that he simply didn’t differentiate between partial and total disassembly when he spoke.
In the Colbert declaration, city officials noted that they had found “an imminent danger of structural collapse of a portion of the building, namely the steel, wood and canvas awning overhanging the public sidewalk and street, thus endangering both adjoining property and human life or health.”
The letter sent to Nichols was a little harsher, pointing out that the notice was “a formal extension from past separate, face-to-face and telephone conversations” with Vaughn and fellow Codes Enforcement Officer Chris Black. It also pointed out that seven separate city codes violations were evident within the structure.
According to the letter, the property was condemned on May 24, 2012 and “there is no visual evidence that any actions have been taken since that time to improve its condition [other than recent partial removal of vegetation inside the building].”
The notice then focused on the structure’s awning and the fact that the interior of the building was open and accessible to the public, pointing out that “the structural integrity of the awning has deteriorated to a risk of potential failure,” that “security of the storefront is basically non-existent,” and that “nearby business tenants have complained of wasps swarming in the area.”
Staff said he is glad to see that the rotted awning on the Main Street building has been taken down, but noted that the problems with the shell of a building on Trammell Street, from which a small amount of debris and most of the vegetation has been removed, probably wouldn’t be resolved as quickly.
“I’m glad to see that the one on Main is already done; it’s down to the metal,” the mayor said. “The other one, I don’t think can be fixed. But he [Nichols] has a lawyer, so I don’t want to say much about that.”