Clock ticking on vacant downtown Zebulon property

amoody@newsobserver.comJanuary 3, 2014 

— Town leaders may soon dictate the future of a downtown property that has been the center of a nuisance and safety quandary since 2010, if its owner doesn’t respond to one final outreach by town staff.

Zebulon planners on Dec. 20 sent Wilhelm Marsh a certified letter notifying he has 30 days to act on his run-down, vacant property at 116 N. Arendell Ave. Marsh has historically had spotty contact with the town concerning the property, and has not responded to numerous letters and phone calls by the planning department since February 2012.

“(Zebulon Planner) Bo (Dobrzenski) and I probably both called every day for two or three weeks,” Zebulon Planning Director Mark Hetrick said the week the final notice was being prepared. “We’ve sent notices out in the past and haven’t really solved the issue, so we’re at the point now where the town is going to have to step in and more than likely take action on the property because the property owner has failed to do so.”

Ongoing issues with the 960-square-foot property include boarded-up doors windows, loose brickwork, debris and trash accumulation inside, freestanding walls with no roof, and as a result, stagnant water and the potential for health issues.

To be considered

At their meeting this Monday, commissioners will be asked to weigh in on what involvement they think the town should have assuming Marsh remains silent.

“I think we are somewhat looking for a hard decision in that we need to know how the town wants to move forward,” Hetrick said. “We’re still hopeful the property owner will take action, but if he doesn’t we want to have the input from the board and not wait until February.”

Hetrick plans to present quotes from contractors for three different abatement options the town board has previously discussed for the property. Those include demolition, making the property safer by bracing the exterior wall, and repair – which may call for a new roof, doors and windows.

An estimate for the engineering and design phases to stabilize the existing structure, not including actual construction, came in at $4,255, according to Hetrick. But he said removal of all doors and windows, leaving the structure open, would not be recommended since it may lead to other nuisances, like vandalism or unwanted people in the building.

“That’s what we’re going to talk about with the board, is some of the pros and cons with each of those options,” Hetrick said.

Early opinions

Town leaders have made it clear demolition of the property, one of the oldest in Zebulon, would be a last resort.

But Commissioners Dale Beck and Beverly Clark say it should not be the town’s responsibility to make the needed fixes.

“The person who owns it needs to go ahead and fix it,” Beck said, noting he has yet to take a stance on what the town’s role should be if Marsh takes no action.

Clark said since the property doesn’t belong to the town, she cannot justify spending taxpayers’ money to bring it into compliance.

“We already have some extra town property on our hands,” Clark said. “We don’t need any more. I’d hate to see it demolished, but again, how do you manage something like that? What’s cost-effective?”

Clark said maybe an outside group – like the Zebulon Beautification Committee or the sprouting downtown merchants association – could raise funds needed to bring the property up to code, in the event the town takes the reins away from Marsh.

The beautification committee has offered to help in the past and has adamantly pushed for action to fix the old structure. And recently, a group of volunteers made up of a general contractor and local business owners indicated it would be willing to help improve the condition of this property.

Town staff mentioned that recent offer in a penultimate letter sent to Marsh on Oct. 24.

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

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