Structures may face demolition

Never-used 1995 law cited in city's fight vs. Main St. owners

`It's a troubling situation'

Officials say years of neglect attracted squatters and trash

April 26, 1999|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

An army of squatters, a mountain of trash and a river of waste water are driving Westminster officials to use the city's "uninhabitable buildings" code -- for the first time since the law was created in 1995 -- to demolish a property.

The owner of a downtown apartment complex at 110 E. Main St. was ordered to demolish the building by Friday. The city and the building's owner, Nelson B. Dorsey, have been arguing over the property for nearly a year.

A second property, at 154 W. Main St., has also been cited for code violations. The building is home of the former Myers grocery store, which was operated by the late Ida Myers for about 50 years. Two of her sons, Jay W. Myers and Francis L. Myers III, live on the first floor and have rented rooms to tenants in the past. They haven't complied with an order to leave.

Thomas B. Beyard, the city's director of planning and public works, said when the "uninhabitable buildings" law was passed there were four properties in violation of the code. He wrote letters to the owners, the repairs were made and the cases were closed.

The Dorsey case is different, he said.

"We constantly received complaints about garbage and trash, and the city came in and cleaned it four or five times," Beyard said. "It's frustrating to the extent that property that's neglected impacts the entire neighborhood. It's a troubling situation."

The city has also received complaints of squatters inhabiting the building after it was ordered vacated. An inspection several months ago turned up drug paraphernalia, garbage, food and a cash register, Beyard said.

Resolution of the problem is proving complex because Dorsey filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy last year. A trustee now has the job of selling Dorsey's assets and giving the proceeds to creditors. The trustee can either keep the property and comply with city demands or "abandon" it and give it back to Dorsey. That decision has not yet been made.

Zvi Guttman, a lawyer representing Dorsey in the bankruptcy, said Dorsey was able to separate his home in the Reisterstown area from the proceedings, meaning his house -- which records show he bought for $785,000 in 1995 -- won't be liquidated.

County code less stringent

The county has cited Dorsey and the Myers brothers for code violations, said Ralph E. Green, county director of permits, inspections and review. But the county only pursues such cases when tenants are living in a rental property.

Now that neither party is renting rooms or apartments, he said, the county would only follow up if the properties were in such disrepair that they were endangering their neighbors or the public at large, which is not the case.

"Where the city comes into play is with the general appearance of the site, and they have different codes," he said. "The city's code as far as writing condemnation orders is stronger than ours."

Problems at the Dorsey property came to light last year when a tree in front of the property died. City officials investigated and found waste water -- left from showers or washing dishes -- being pumped from the basement into the yard and street.

Dorsey stopped paying the company he had hired to pick up garbage, said Scott Jeznach, the city's code enforcement officer. Tenants kept piling garbage there anyway, Jeznach said, and eventually the receptacle for it was hidden under the trash.

`A bad rap'

Dorsey dismissed many of the charges and said he's "gotten a bad rap."

He removed trash from the site on several occasions, he said, and the water pumped from the basement to the street was clean.

"It may sound naive on my part, but I really didn't think it was a problem," he said. "I feel like my civil rights have been violated."

He will appear in District Court on May 22 to contest a $2,500 fine from the city. After he failed to seal the vacated property last year, the city did it for him and fined him $2,500, which he paid. When squatters broke in, the city sealed the building again and fined Dorsey another $2,500. He's fighting the second citation, saying the city should have sealed it better the first time.

"They portray me as irresponsible, and that's totally wrong; that's not me," Dorsey said. "I'm deeply convicted in my faith and my trust in humanity, in the sense that everybody needs to have a fair chance to make the best with what they have," he said. "I've done nothing but try to help people. Housing agencies called me, and I would take in people who fell through the cracks."

Many citations

Karen Blandford, city administrator of housing and community development, disagrees. She said Dorsey, who at one time owned at least five city properties, is the only landlord in Westminster ever barred from participating in the federal Section 8 program -- which helps low-income people pay rent -- because of conditions in his buildings.

"Being willing to offer people housing in and of itself is not something to be applauded," she said.

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