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Roanoke Rapids City Council Tuesday unanimously agreed for the planning department to hold a hearing to consider a demolition order for what has been deemed an unsafe building located at 201-203 Roanoke Avenue.

That hearing will be held during the council’s February 20 meeting and concerns the building that was once B. Marks, a general merchandise store owned by the father of Fannye Marks, who owned and operated the upscale women’s clothier Fannye’s, which is next to the building under consideration for demolition.

Before the start of a presentation by city Minimum Housing Officer Roger Bell, City Manager Kelly Traynham said, “We’ve had a lot of concerns about the building located at Second Street and Roanoke Avenue.”

She said the city is going to try to work with the owner of the property, which is listed as a corporation. “We do feel the city needs to move forward with at least an action plan as far as removal of the unsafe conditions whether that’s demolishing the structure or so forth.”

Absent any order the city’s hands are tied “unless the building were to fall into the streets. That is a concern. We’ve had the street barricaded for about a year now to prevent any vehicular traffic or pedestrian traffic alongside it.”

The unsafe building order would allow the city to move forward to make any planning for emergency response, Traynham said. “What I would like for us to do is meet not only with the city police department, code, fire, and public works, but also involve emergency management and any other stakeholders like DOT and see if there’s any other funding source revenues out there.”

The order would not obligate the city to do anything but it will allow it to move forward with bidding the project as far as removal of the unsafe conditions “which ultimately in this case is demolition,” which Traynham said is probably the only option. “What we would have to do is then further bid out and get an idea of the cost because we already know the cost is going to exceed our budget. I’m hopeful that we may be able to explore some options and reduce the city’s burden on this.”

The planning department reaches out to owners of buildings that are in bad condition and asks what their plans are, Traynham said. “The constant feedback is the cost to repair or the cost to do anything about it far exceeds what (they’re) able to do.”

She said city officials know it will cost six figures to demolish the building. An exact amount is not known because it will depend on the tipping fee at the landfill. “We’ll have a better idea as we move forward in this process.”

Most grants require a redevelopment plan, the city manager said. “That’s usually the piece that we’re missing. We’re missing the private investment piece on many of these pieces of property.”

With the Marks building, Traynham said, it’s not a question of if the building collapses, it’s a matter of when. “With the Food Lion backing up to it and many other things, the cost to abate this public safety matter is going to be nothing compared with the value of a life.”

Corporate entity

City Attorney Geoffrey Davis said one of the things that has to be looked at in these matters is the way private owners are compelled to take responsibility. “So many times the responsible party … is a corporate entity.”

While people may think they know who the owners of these types of properties are, Davis said many times those people are just shareholders. “One of the reasons you organize in a corporate entity is to, in effect, protect your personal assets.”

Davis said one of the things the city has to keep in mind with the Marks building or any others, “Is that corporate organization protects the individual shareholders' liability … That lien is going to only be put against the corporate entity. If that’s the only piece of property they own and have no other assets that’s going to mean that’s essentially what you’re limited to as far as being able to be compensated for it.”

The attorney said the costs in these buildings make it difficult to have a reasonable expectation of being able to recoup those for the taxpayers.

Davis has been in discussions with the attorney for the corporation. “I think we need to move forward with this process and go ahead and take these steps … There needs to be some movement from our end.”


In his report to the council Bell noted that on February 27 of last year Chief Building Inspector Brian Duhadaway expressed concern about the building’s structural integrity, specifically the possibility of the north-facing wall collapsing onto West Second Street. “When I looked at the building I shared his concern,” he wrote. “I met with public works Director Larry Chalker … and he expressed his concerns and barricaded West Second Street in that block.”

Bell noted that Chalker contacted the building’s owner who indicated they would have the building demolished.

Last March the corporation hired MJ Price to demolish the building but in April Price informed the city that the owner had backed down on the demolition citing the cost.

Last May the owner said he didn’t have enough money to demolish the building and indicated he wanted to approach the council about COVID relief funds or some other public funding.

Later in May Price informed the city that the state was requesting on-site asbestos abatement for the demolition, which was driving up the cost.

In his slideshow presentation, Bell presented photos showing the pilaster falling and the exterior wall in the same area had begun to cave inward, conditions that caught Duhadaway’s attention.

Near the rear of the building the roof has caved in and the second floor has collapsed partially blocking a passageway. The upper floor collapsed onto the lower floor. The pilaster from the previous slide had fallen. Heavy objects such as this, Bell noted, can create outward pressure on the walls. There is a collapsed ceiling in the main entry area.

In his report Bell noted that, “We have determined the structure to be an unsafe building as defined by Chapter 150 of the Code of the City of Roanoke Rapids. The staff has properly accomplished the required procedures and the owner has failed to comply with the official’s order.”

Wrote Bell: “Based on these circumstances and the danger to the public health and safety this location presents, staff requests city council hold a hearing to consider a demolition order for 201-203 Roanoke Avenue to comply with the order of code enforcement to repair or demolish and remove the structure.”

Further concerns

Traynham said she wants to bring in a tabletop exercise to determine what the city does when voluntary demolition takes place or there is involuntary collapse of the building. “With it (the avenue) being a state highway, Roanoke Avenue would have to close for a certain amount of time for any demolition or cleanup efforts to take place.” 

The city believes there are asbestos-containing materials in the building, she said. “What makes it dangerous is when those materials become friable or when they produce particles into the air. There’s a very strict process involved by the state. Even if the city is leading the effort or someone else, we're going to have to take a lot of significant precautions because of the airborne contamination impact.”

Said Traynham: “It’s not going to be like when there’s a car accident and they sweet stuff on the side of the road and they’re done. You’re going to need personal protection equipment. There’s what they call wet methods because the building is in such a dangerous condition that you cannot remove the asbestos before conducting the demolition. In this particular case we can’t remove the asbestos and take it to the special landfill. You have to treat the entire structure as hazardous waste.”

The effort, the city manager said, is like an orchestra. “We’re going to have to be the conductor in some form but it doesn’t mean we have to be the lead singer or the main ticket holder.”