MOUNT VERNON — Members of the Dilapidated Buildings Commission have decided it is time to get tough about the former middle school, and have directed city law director Bill Smith to pursue criminal charges against owner John Bechtel. Smith will request a search warrant to allow the commission members to enter the building and make an inspection; the commission will execute the warrant next week.
The former school at 301 N. Mulberry St. has been the target of recurring vandalism over the years, with the result that birds and other animals have gained entrance and made it their home, covering the interior with animal feces. At one point a homeless person was living there, and the building was the scene of a fire started by juveniles. In May, more windows were broken, allowing yet another point of entry.
Bechtel has repeatedly said he would make repairs to keep the building sealed off, but has failed to do so.
Council members John Fair, Burt Hanson and Mike Hillier, along with City Council President John Booth, attended the commission’s meeting Tuesday, and expressed their frustration with the lack of progress in resolving the issue. Hillier believes the city has been reacting to Bechtel, rather than taking the lead.
“We need to relook at the time table and tell Mr. Bechtel what the city wants done and when,” said Hillier. “Do whatever it takes and put him in jail. I think you have the support of council.”
“Get a search warrant, and go in and make a list of zoning violations,” said Hanson. “Direct the law director to take action to file criminal charges. Show the judge the list of violations so the judge will say ‘do this or go to jail.’
“Then I think you will see flurry of activity,” he said. “If there’s no result, go back to court. I think any more waiting for a search warrant and filing criminal charges is unnecessary.”
Booth said the dilapidated building ordinance was created in the mid-1970s, and suggested it be reviewed.
“Council will be willing to put whatever teeth are necessary into it so things don’t drag out this long,” he said. “We definitely need to go after this guy.”
Brian Benick, who represents the health department on the commission, agreed Bechtel should be given a time frame in which to take action.
“I agree with Burt,” said Benick. “We need to tell him what to do.”
Commission chairman Dave Glass, the city’s safety-service director, said Bechtel, as well as Bechtel’s attorney, has been notified the commission wants to go back in the building, but both have been unresponsive to his messages.
Although in early dealings on the property Bechtel was listed as the owner, the issue has been clouded somewhat as a board is now listed as the owner, and there has been some doubt as to whom the city should go after. Smith said Bechtel’s relationship with the building has been established well enough that the city’s criminal action ordinance allows the city to pursue Bechtel.
“I think the board is a ploy of Mr. Bechtel to direct the city to a group that is unidentifiable,” said Mayor Richard Mavis, calling the building “an albatross from a mayor’s perspective.”
Smith said that, long term, he is not certain what can be done to find anyone with the financial capability to do anything with the building.
“It shouldn’t be the concern of the city whether they have the money to do anything with it,” said Hillier. “When they bought it, they knew they were going to have to fix it. Our concern is, he’s not following the law, and what are we going to do about it?”
In addition to the former middle school, the commission discussed a number of other properties. Smith is pursuing criminal charges against Kyle Waggoner, owner of properties at 12 McKinley St., 303 N. Jefferson St., and 101 Walnut St.; and the owners of properties at 612 E. Gambier St., 908 W. High St. and 306 N. Main St.
Smith will also request a search warrant to inspect the property at 115 E. Vine St.
“The front porch is the safety problem now, but my fear is that on closer inspection, we’ll find more problems,” Larry Fogle, code enforcement officer for the city, told the commission.
•Properties approved for condemnation: Garages at 1114 N. Mulberry St. and 2 Ridgewood Ave.
•Properties referred to law director for condemnation: 616 Clinton St., 14 Cottage St., 3 Harcourt St., and 305 N. Norton St.
•Properties the commission will continue to monitor: 118 Cassil St., 208 E. Hamtramck, 103 N. Mechanic St., 17 Belmont Ave., 112 E. Gambier St., 914 Howard St., 804 W. Vine.
•Properties removed from the monitor list: 225 Ames St., 402 W. Gambier St., 160 Mansfield Ave. and 807 E. Vine.
•Properties demolished in May: 306 Sunset and 918 W. High St.