Note: This story was last updated at 9:10 a.m.
An Oak Ridge board has rejected a request for more time, or even a waiver, for making exterior repairs at the 13 now-vacant Applewood Apartments buildings on Hillside Road and Hunter Circle.
The Oak Ridge Board of Building and Housing Code Appeals rejected the request from Applewood Apartments owner Joe Levitt in a 5-1 vote on Thursday.
Levitt had asked for a waiver or one-year extension for time to paint or stain the exteriors of the apartment buildings.
The condition of the exteriors had been cited in code violation notices issued by Oak Ridge Code Enforcement Inspector Lisa Crumpley on February 6. She said the exteriors of the apartment buildings need to be stained or painted. The siding on the buildings is chipping and fading, and it is disrepair in places, Crumpley said.
She also said trash and debris are accumulating at the apartments.
Levitt said the debris at the apartments is being addressed bi-weekly.
Crumpley acknowledged that trash is being removed, but then new trash is dumped.
“It is a nuisance,” she said.
Board member Joe Lee made the motion to deny Levitt’s request for more time or a waiver.
He pointed out that the current codes enforcement battle between the city and Levitt dates back to at least 2009. It’s included board and court hearings, disputes over fines, demolition orders, legal appeals, and votes on whether at least some of the buildings are unfit for human occupation and use.
“This discussion has been going on for far too long,” Lee said. “After 10 years, I’m not inclined to give you another day.”
He said the buildings are blighted, a nuisance, and uninhabitable, and they adversely affect the neighborhood.
“Either paint them or tear them down,” Lee said.
While Levitt asked for a waiver or one-year extension on the exteriors, the city staff had requested an order for compliance within 60 days.
Thursday’s vote on the current code violation notices might not be the end of the case. Levitt has appealed previous board decisions up through the court and appellate court system, and he unsuccessfully tried to get the Tennessee Supreme Court to review one case.
He presumably has the option of appealing Thursday’s board decision as well. Levitt is an attorney, and he has represented himself in court proceedings.
The city staff has said Levitt is required to keep all vacant structures and land in a clean, safe, secure, and sanitary condition “so as to not cause a blighting problem or adversely affect public health and safety.”
The city and Levitt have been engaged in a long-running dispute over alleged code violations at Applewood Apartments. Tenants were told in early August that the apartments would close September 30, and the last tenant was reported to be moving out in early October.
At that time, Levitt said he is 85 and has had health problems, and he’s trying to clean up his estate. Most of his estate will probably go to the University of Tennessee and nonprofit organizations, Levitt said.
On Thursday, he said he’s not going to live much longer. He wants additional time so he doesn’t “dump a mess on UT,” Levitt said.
“I’m determined to deal with the problem before I die,” he said.
He said he’s been negotiating with several buyers, but at least one backed out.
Levitt said he’s made arrangements to have the property mowed and cleaned every two weeks. He asked for the option to report back to the board every 60 to 90 days.
Philip Nipper, the board’s vice chair, told Levitt that he could get a demolition permit that would be good for six months, and if he did that, that would show “he’s going to do something.”
Levitt raised concerns about asbestos in the buildings.
But Lee and Nipper both suggested Levitt is making the removal of asbestos before demolition sound more complicated than it is. All Levitt needs, Lee said, is a certified asbestos contractor.
“It’s not rocket science,” Nipper said. “It’s done every day.”
The process of removing asbestos and demolishing the buildings won’t be cheap, but it will be cheaper than fixing them, Lee said.
“These buildings need to come down,” he said. “They should have come down a long time ago…This is a problem for the city that needs to be resolved.”
There were two choices, Lee said, demolish the buildings or paint them within 60 days.
Levitt said he could be subject to fines of $500 per day per building because of the code violations. Two demolition contractors withdrew because of the painting requirement, he said. He said he wanted to be sure he won’t still be subject to fines if the buildings are demolished.
City officials responded with two comments. First, there won’t be any buildings to paint if Applewood Apartments are demolished, so that would presumably resolve the painting requirement. Second, the Applewood Apartments case is scheduled to be heard by the city’s administrative hearing officer on April 19, and the board can’t promise that the hearing officer won’t impose fines. That’s a separate issue, they said.
“There is no guarantee between the two boards,” said Matt Widner of the Oak Ridge Community Development Department.
Nipper cast the only vote against rejecting Levitt’s request for more time or a waiver. He had proposed deferring Levitt’s appeal for 30 days to allow him time to get a demolition permit, which would be good for six months, and a contract with contractors. But he also wasn’t supportive of a one-year waiver, Nipper said.
Levitt said even a 30-day deferral was too short. He asked for 60 days.
Voting for Lee’s motion to reject Levitt’s request for more time or a waiver were Lee, Chair Bruce LeForce, Secretary Amy Seiber, and board members Phil Yager and Leonard Vaughen. Board member Mike Marsh was absent.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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