April 20, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria mulling demo board

ELYRIA — Law Director Scott Serazin wants the city to create a new board to handle property owners who appeal condemnation orders to save the homes they own from demolition.

The goal is to speed up what can be a long and tedious process and take the decision-making out of the hands of professionals who were supposed to be handling building code problems, not demolition appeals.

Serazin plans to present the plan to the City Council’s Community Development Committee meeting April 29.

Dealing with a large number of appeals is not something the city has had to worry about in the past, but with the massive number of homes the city has condemned this year, Serazin said a potential problem exists.

“Right now, the administrative appeal process is to go before the Board of Building Standards and Appeals, which is filled with craftsmen who volunteer their time to give interpretations on building codes,” he said. “They are not pleased about sitting there doing condemnations when they were brought on because they have a specific construction expertise.”

Serazin said the first appeal in recent years was when property owner George Schneider, the same man who is suing Lorain for razing a home he owned before an appeal can he heard, objected to the city condemning a home he owns on the south side of Elyria.

Located at 352 S. Maple St., the home has long been vacant and has a number of building code violations, but as soon as the city tacked a condemnation order on the door, Schneider had his lawyer appeal under the argument he needed more time to make repairs.

“It’s been more than 180 days since that day, and we’re still in talks with him to get the matter resolved,” Serazin said. “We have to speed up the process and that starts with another board with citizens or someone from the community and others who can make a more definitive decision.”

Serazin said Lorain has a similar board — the Demolition Board of Appeals.

In contrast, Elyria’s Chief Building Inspector Phil Lahetta said the city’s Board of Building Standards and Appeals primarily hears cases involving items in the local or residential building code.

“If someone had a window they wanted to install that didn’t meet the minimal size or has a plumbing project and the Building Department tells them no, they would go to the board on appeal,” he said. “That’s the major intent of the board when it was founded. The appeals process for the International Property Maintenance Code requires the city to have some sort of board to handle appeals.”

Lahetta said with the increase in appeals from contractors and the very nature of how long it takes to condemn and demolition a home, he would agree that a new board needs to be created.

Neither Lahetta nor Serazin would say who should serve on the board and how it will be assembled. It will be up to City Council to make those determinations, Serazin said.

“We need a more pointed and accurate body to deal with the specific nature of condemnation and demolition, which is health, safety and the legal rights of homeowners,” Lahetta said.

This year, the city has increased the number of homes it hopes to raze. To date, 59 properties have been demolished, another 42 properties have been condemned and are on their way to demolition and 14 more are in the pipeline, said Kevin Brubaker, superintendent of services for the Building and Cemeteries Departments.

And while the city is moving quickly to rid neighborhoods of problem homes, Brubaker said demolition is not the main objective. The city is more interested in cleaning up neighborhoods and is willing to work with homeowners.

“We have some people who have fixed up or are in the process of fixing up their home. We stuck a condemnation notice on their doors, and they got moving,” he said.

When that is not the case, however, the seemingly endless process of appeals leaves neighbors most frustrated. On South Maple Street, Councilman Marcus Madison, D-5th Ward, said the residents who live near the home Schneider owns — himself included — have been more than patient in hopes of seeing some kind of resolution.

“The residents are extremely frustrated with this process and the system as a whole,” he said. “They feel like there voices are not being heard and, really, there have been no changes to the home.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.