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Roanoke Rapids City Council Tuesday adopted a demolition order for the former B. Marks building following a hearing which drew no speakers.

The order directs code enforcement to demolish and remove the building at 201-203 Roanoke Avenue as it is unfit for use and lawful occupation.

The ordinance, which was unanimously passed with Councilman Wayne Smith absent, also comes with a memorandum of understanding in which the landowner acknowledges that the property is in a state of disrepair, is of substandard condition and is considered to be dangerous to life, health and other property.

The MOU also shows that the landowner has been made aware of the city’s intent to condemn the property and assess a lien for the costs of abating the nuisance that include demolishing the building and removing debris.

The MOU also states the landowner agrees to release and hold harmless the city, its contractors from any liability for damage to the property and agrees to not take any action which would impair or restrict access to the property.

In turn, the document says, the city agrees to release and hold harmless the landowner and its shareholders from any liability for injuries or claims by firms or contractors regarding the building’s demolition and any damage to any adjoining property resulting from its demolition.

The vote on the demolition order came after a presentation by City Minimum Housing Officer Roger Bell, one similar to his presentation two weeks ago.

Since that report Bell said the main window of the building facing the avenue has fallen apart and there is a crack underneath the window from the pressure of the building on top. A pilaster on top has fallen into the building.

There is a row of glass above the doorway, he said. “Those little pieces are also falling in from the pressure of the building.”

Brick is falling and there is a hole where the buildings have separated, Bell told the council, and there is separation from the building and the one adjacent to it. 

B. Marks was 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.

City Manager Kelly Traynham said adoption of the order gives the authority to move forward and do a complete examination of what it would take to demolish the building. “At this point we don’t know if there’s any existing damage to the adjacent property but … if the city moves forward with a contractor to help remediate this danger we certainly do not want to cause any additional damages.”

The ordinance allows the city to conduct a full examination and to develop a plan.

City Attorney Geoffrey Davis said, “Whether we do go forward with the ordinance and do try to go in and remediate it, the fact that it’s been allowed to deteriorate and may have caused some damage to that (adjacent building) … that is not going to make us liable for the damages that’s already incurred.”

The city would document any damage to the adjacent structure, he said. “That is a concern, but it’s something we won’t know until it’s done. It’s certainly not going to be a good situation if it falls down catastrophically.”

Traynham said the city will have to look at the matter carefully. “This isn’t your typical push down a shed. It’s a very large building at a busy intersection. This ordinance will give us the authority to move forward to understanding the costs.”

She said the costs are not currently budgeted. “We would have to come back with a bid as far as what it would take and ask council for the money. This is just one step in the procedural outline for accomplishing (the remediation) of the threat.”

The action Tuesday does not obligate the city to go in and start tearing the building down. Davis said.

“Because this is a state-maintained highway we have DOT that’s implicated in it,” the city attorney said. “Because there is potential asbestos contamination there we have the experts that are involved with that. There’s going to be several folks that have to get involved and look at this process.”

Davis said the MOU waives any objections to notice issues or any other matters that could come up that could potentially delay the process. “By having that in writing and having that consent we kind of move past all that and go ahead and get them to agree that, yes, it is unfit and it needs to be taken down.”

As he said during the initial discussion of the matter two weeks ago, Davis said the law only allows the city to go after the landowner. “The landowner in this case is the LLC and if they don’t have any other properties, there’s nothing else by law that we can touch. We can’t go after the shareholders, we can’t go after other corporations that the shareholders may share or may be partners in — that’s just the way it works.”

Traynham said following the discussion that the city will have to meet with staff and emergency responders. The city will also contact the state Department of Transportation and emergency management. “We’re going to need to evaluate the cost of having an asbestos inspection completed to the extent possible and get guidance from the state as far as that is concerned.”

She said adoption of the ordinance allows the city to take action as far as looking for and securing any funds. “Typically there’s not much out there strictly for demolition. If we approach this from a public health nuisance as well we could find some alternate revenues associated with that as far as any potential contamination.”

A ballpark estimation for demolition is $250,000, the city manager said. “It all just depends on the environmental aspects of it and if there’s any engineering we need to hire to look at certain things to go forth and create a demolition plan.”