Zebulon getting serious about vacant downtown property

amoody@newsobserver.comNovember 18, 2013 

Members of the Zebulon Beautification Committee and Zebulon Woman’s Club covered the boarded-up door and windows on the front of the 116 N. Arendell Ave. property with Christmas decorations on Friday.

AARON MOODY — amoody@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Town leaders are taking a firmer stance on dealing with a downtown property that has been out of compliance with town code for more than three years.

The property at 116 N. Arendell Ave. – which used to house City Barbershop and was one of the first two brick buildings in Zebulon – has faced scrutiny since October 2010, when Wake County building inspectors deemed it unsafe.

It took the owner of the property, Wilhelm Marsh, seven months to respond to repeated attempts by the town and county to communicate about the problems with the building. Since that time, Marsh has taken steps toward and away from compliance and has continued to have spotty contact with authorities.

Town staff on Oct. 24 sent Marsh a letter indicating its plans to bring the issue before the town board on Nov. 4. The letter was sent one day after Zebulon Public Works staff found parts of broken windows on the front of the building had fallen onto the sidewalk.

At their November meeting, commissioners agreed with Mayor Bob Matheny that it was time to serve Marsh an ultimatum.

“In my opinion, if you don’t hear from (Marsh) in another week you need to send him another letter,” Matheny told Planning Director Mark Hetrick, “and say, ‘Look, this is serious. We’re going to have to take some action. You need to respond. We need to start talking to each other, and if you’re not going to talk’ then we’re going to have to take some action he may not like.”

Matheny proposed giving Marsh 30 more days to contact the town. If he does not, the town’s next option would be to have attorneys gain court approval for the town to make necessary changes to the property, according to Hetrick.

Both Hetrick and Matheny said demolition would be a last-resort option for the town. But what Marsh chooses to do with his property, Matheny said, is out of the town’s hands.

“The man could actually just come in here and say, ‘OK, I’m going to tear it down,’ and this is not what I think anybody wants,” Matheny said. “It’s our last option, but it could be his first.”

The Oct. 24 letter also informed Marsh of another option for resolving the issues with the structure.

“We have a new group of volunteers made up of a general contractor and local business owners willing to help improve the condition of this property,” the letter, issued by planner Bo Dobrzenski, read. “We would prefer your cooperation with this project rather than going the route of nuisance abatement.”

Hetrick noted several years ago Marsh turned down an offer by the Zebulon Beautification Committee to improve the property.

Marsh had not replied to the most recent letter as of Friday. The last time town staff heard from Marsh was February 2012.

“We’ve tried to call numerous times, and still a lot of letters that we’ve sent are being returned,” said Zebulon Planning Director Mark Hetrick. “At the rate it’s going, we’re probably going to have to address this in some fashion.”

Looking back

By September, 2011, Marsh had demolished the building’s collapsing roof and addressed loose brickwork and the accumulation of construction debris behind the building. A final inspection that same month showed the only remaining safety hazard was where windows were broken on the front side of the property.

Just weeks later, however, the construction debris that had been removed reappeared behind the structure.

Town staff sent Marsh another notice of violation in January, 2012, for the reappearance of the debris and the broken windows. A month later, Marsh said he planned to repair the building in March, 2012, and had the debris pushed inside the building and had the building secured.

In October 2012, eight months after Marsh cleaned the site a second time, the town sent Marsh another notice of violation because of the broken windows, potential stagnant water inside the structure and the presence of the debris inside. That was the last recorded effort made by the town to resolve the problems with the building until October of this year.

Moody: 919-829-4806; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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