With no objections from members, a city board on Thursday reaffirmed a decision from more than two years ago to declare four Applewood Apartment buildings unfit for human occupation and use, and declare them nuisances.
Joe Lee, a member of the Oak Ridge Board of Building and Housing Code Appeals, said the board’s November 2010 decision on the four buildings on Hunter Circle has already been upheld by the Anderson County Chancery Court and the Tennessee Court of Appeals.
It wasn’t immediately clear what might happen next, including whether apartment owner Joe Levitt, a Knoxville attorney, might appeal the decision, and whether the city might issue an order to vacate the buildings.
Thursday’s vote came after Jim Odle of Odle and Young Architects Inc. 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.”
Odle said his lists were simply a tabulation, and using his seal to certify that life, safety, and health issues had been corrected would not be appropriate.
“That is not a construction document,” he said of his repair lists.
Although they acknowledged that some work might have been done, board members didn’t seem satisfied with the architect’s lists, and they questioned the evidence presented, pointing out, for example, that photos introduced during Thursday’s hearing didn’t include information on times or locations.
“We have still no proof that the work has been done in a proper manner,” board vice chair John Russell said.
“We don’t have anything that says the issues we identified have been corrected,” board member Joe Lee said. “What we have done is in place, and there has been nothing that would convince me today that it should be rescinded or changed.”
Oak Ridge City Attorney Ken Krushenski recommended that an engineering firm hired by the city be allowed to re-inspect the buildings and verify the repairs.
Lee said the city has invested a “fortune in manpower and professionals” in the code enforcement battle against Levitt and his 13-building apartment complex on Hillside Road and Hunter Circle. The legal battle started several years ago and has included demolition orders, legal appeals, and contentious board and courtroom hearings. Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson has reported that eight Applewood Apartment buildings could be demolished under a proposal by an Alabama company to build a new apartment complex.
City officials say they want the buildings repaired, while Levitt says he has made repairs.
Lee told Levitt he would be willing to hear from “any professional that you can bring to bear” on the repairs to the four two-story buildings at 105 and 115 E. Hunter Circle, and 119 and 121 W. Hunter Circle. But he questioned Odle’s expertise in structural, mechanical, and electrical engineering.
“I’m inclined to think that the buildings are still unfit,” Lee said.
The board had ordered the four buildings demolished in November 2010, but the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Knoxville said the board “acted without material evidence to support its decision to demolish the buildings.” The appellate court said the board may only order demolitions when repair costs exceed 50 percent of property values. However, no evidence was presented at the 2010 Applewood hearing about the original condition or value of the buildings, or the repair costs, the court said.
The board did not consider the demolition issue on Thursday.
Levitt tried to bring up other issues at the hearing, including the use of search warrants to inspect the properties, but the city and board members objected, citing the appellate court decision.
“All the other decisions were already affirmed,” Krushenski said.
The only decision to be made Thursday was whether the buildings were unfit for human occupation and use, and whether they should be vacated, he said.