Final notice to downtown Zebulon property owner means business

amoody@newsobserver.comJanuary 10, 2014 

— Town leaders were disappointed Monday night to learn that their latest effort to improve a dilapidated downtown building was unsuccessful.

Commissioners were told that the letter sent to Wilhelm Marsh Dec. 19 gave him 30 days from receipt of the letter to correct several nuisance and safety violations on the property, located at 116 N. Arendell Ave. The problem is, Marsh had not accepted receipt of the letter and so the 30-day clock couldn’t start.

So commissioners changed tack on Monday, directing town attorney Eric Vernon to send another notice that gives Marsh just two weeks from the date the letter is sent to fix the building. Vernon expected to send the notice by Wednesday.

If Marsh responds to the Dec. 19 letter within the two-week time limit, he will be given the full 30 days to make improvements to the building.

“We don’t know if the 30 days is going to apply because we haven’t heard back (from Marsh), but what we do know is the two weeks will apply if we don’t hear back from Marsh,” said Zebulon Mayor Bob Matheny.

If Marsh still doesn’t fix the building, the town will take him to court and pursue condemnation of the property, according to Vernon. If granted, it would give the town the ability to make the needed improvements and bill Marsh for the work. Marsh would still retain ownership of the property.

While the new plan ensures a more definite result, commissioners were reluctant at the idea of sending yet another letter to Marsh.

“I thought we’d already done that,” Commissioner Dale Beck said. “Is it really necessary to do that? It seems to me we’ve already done that and have received no response whatsoever.”

Marsh has had spotty communication with town staff since 2010, when the 960-square-foot structure was deemed unsafe by Wake County building inspectors. And he has not responded to numerous letters and phone calls by town staff since February, 2012.

Planning Director Mark Hetrick presented three options for the board to consider at Monday’s meeting. They are demolition, making the property safer by bracing the exterior wall, and repair – which may call for a new roof, doors and windows.

Commissioners seemed eager to pick an option for the town to bring the property into compliance.

“I don’t see any good faith effort on the owner’s part to work with the town,” Commissioner Glenn York said. “We have ordinances and a system in place, and obviously (Marsh) is not following that. My recommendation would be we just go forward with the next step.”

Beck even made a motion that the town board take action on one of the abatement options, but Matheny said the town should not because of the unresolved status of the Dec. 19 letter sent to Marsh.

“I didn’t think it served any purpose to pick option one, two or three,” Matheny said. “What did make sense was to give the attorney the authority to proceed when the time is appropriate, because you still have to go through the courts, and the courts actually give (Marsh) time, as well.”

An initial motion to have Vernon send a final notice to Marsh failed. The board reconsidered after reviewing the terms of the new notice, and how it may allow Vernon to take control of the property in a matter of weeks.

“We need to give a short time,” Commissioner Beverly Clark said. “We don’t need to give (Marsh) much time, because he’s had enough.”

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

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