A few days after a city board declared them unfit, the Oak Ridge municipal staff posted yellow “Danger” signs on four Applewood Apartment buildings on Hunter Circle, officials said.
Posted on Tuesday, the placards say the 48 apartment units have been deemed unfit for human occupation or use, said Denny Boss, Oak Ridge code enforcement supervisor. The notices cannot be removed until the structures are repaired or demolished.
Joe Levitt, the Knoxville attorney who owns the apartments, disagrees that they are dangerous.
“The buildings are in satisfactory engineering and architectural condition,” he said Thursday. “There’s no question about that.”
He said he doesn’t rent out any units that are not safe and in good condition.
Oak Ridge Community Development Director Kathryn Baldwin said the city wanted to let residents know as quickly as possible after the Board of Building and Housing Code Appeals agreed last week to reaffirm a 2010 decision to declare the buildings unfit. City officials said that decision has already been upheld by the Anderson County Chancery Court and the Tennessee Court of Appeals.
“We wanted to put them on notice,” Baldwin said Wednesday of the residents. “They may be at risk.”
Levitt said he will appeal the board’s most recent decision, although he doesn’t know when.
Items alleged to be in need of repair ranged from main girder beams, floor joists, and open electrical boxes to plumbing leaks, broken windows, and mold-like deposits, according to a list presented during last week’s hearing of the Board of Building and Housing Code Appeals. The items were identified a few years ago by Corum Engineering of Knoxville.
Accompanying Levitt at last week’s hearing, Knoxville architect Jim Odle submitted a list of repairs that he said had been made to the four buildings, including replacing or repairing beams, piers, floor joists, and plumbing leaks, and removing trash from basements. It was “evidence the property is no longer unfit for human occupation and use,” Odle said.
But he declined to certify with his seal that the repairs, which allegedly corrected violations found in inspections in May 2009, had resolved life, safety, and health issues at the four buildings.
“I can attest to what I saw, but that is the extent of it,” Odle said. “It’s a professional opinion, based on my observations.”
City officials said that wasn’t enough. Among other things, they pointed out that the pictures presented by Applewood representatives weren’t labeled with identifying information, such as time and location.
On Wednesday, Baldwin said it is now Levitt’s responsibility to show he is in compliance with city codes. She said Levitt, who is a Knoxville attorney, should bring forward a professional who is licensed in the field and can present documentation that repairs have been made to items identified in the Corum report that could affect life, health, and safety.
“Just a picture of a beam is insufficient,” Baldwin said.
Levitt said there is no basis for asking for a seal under the city ordinance. He said Oak Ridge officials are refusing to hear what repairs have taken place during the past four years. The city’s decision was based on a report received almost four years ago, he said.
“(They) refused to entertain any proof whatsoever about reconstruction, remodeling, and maintenance work,” Levitt said. “That’s just ridiculous.”
The four buildings are at 105 and 115 East Hunter Circle, and 119 and 121 West Hunter Circle. Boss said there are six units upstairs and six units downstairs at each of the four two-story buildings. That is about 48 units total, although some of them have been combined, Boss said.
He said the placards posted Tuesday warn that it is unlawful for anyone to remove them. He said it is the first time the notices have been posted at the 13-building complex.
It’s part of a code enforcement battle that started several years ago between the city and Levitt, and it has included demolition orders, legal appeals, and contentious board and courtroom hearings.
Late last month, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said Huff Management Company of Opelika, Ala. has a contract with Levitt and could demolish eight of 10 Applewood Apartments buildings, replacing them with a new complex as part of a project that could involve tax credits.
But Levitt said he does not have a contract with Huff Management. Anything that that company might consider doing won’t happen until next year, he said.
Asked whether there are fewer tenants at Applewood now, Levitt said there are about 60-70 units that are rented out at the 13-building complex, but he doesn’t recall whether that number is down.
Levitt, who has blamed the complex’s renovation problems on a now-abandoned city plan to acquire the properties in 2004, said he and his staff plan to continue doing what they have been doing since he learned in 2008 that the city was not going to buy Applewood.
“We’re not going to quit maintaining our properties,” he said. “We just don’t do that.”
Note: This story was last updated at 3:34 p.m.