It's been nearly a year since Lenoir City council took bids to demolish the old A Street apartments downtown, which were condemned and closed "for a variety of violations and reasons," according to Mayor Matt Brookshire.
Time is closing in on sale of the buildings because AmSouth Bank, which holds a $43,000 mortgage, wants to recoup its loan. City attorney Shannon Littleton notified council Dec. 11 if it has any interest in negotiating for the property, now is the time.
"I still feel that demolition is the best thing to do," Brookshire said.
Though the city's Board of Housing Appeals issued a demolition order Jan. 24, council has held off because of the cost and legal implications of doing so. It did authorize an asbestos survey in March; its estimate of minor removal was another $1,000 on top of $30,000 to demolish.
Back in June, council discussed the apartments at a workshop, where Littleton advised demolition would probably land the city in court with AmSouth and/or the property's heirs seeking recompense. He suggested the city could buy the property, but the bank's asking price was at least $50,000, and the heirs were behind on property taxes by two years.
According to Codes Enforcement Officer DeAnn Bogus, the county's assessed valuation of both lots in June was $122,200.
One thing council could try, Brookshire suggested, is to partner with a developer to buy the land. Another solution would be to let the bank sell, and take a chance the buildings won't be reopened by the new owner or enact legislation to control usage of the land. Brookshire is adamant the city be in charge one way or another to ensure its use doesn't fall back into disrepute.
"If what you're doing in the long run is drastically improving the neighborhood, taking a loss ... may not be that bitter of a pill to swallow," he said at the June 19 workshop.
At council's Dec. 11 meeting, though, new Councilman Buddy Hines wanted reassurance council would recoup losses incurred to purchase or demolish the buildings, since it is tax money. Brookshire said he was hopeful, but the city might not be able to resell the lots right away.
"We've got so many other problems in the city, I can't see us getting into the real estate business," Hines said.
"I don't know that that's doing the people who're living around it justice," the mayor countered, indicating area residents are asking what's to be done with the land.
City Recorder/Treasurer Debbie Cook advised council did budget for demolition this year, but has since authorized other demolition and there is not enough in the budget to buy or demolish the A Street buildings. The city would likely have to seek a loan.
Rather than decide right away to spend money, Councilman Eddie Simpson suggested council ask AmSouth for right of first refusal on potential buyers. His opinion in June was the city not purchase, and simply control the land through zoning.
For a right of first refusal to work, Littleton explained the city would have to match the highest offer. Council approved by 4-1 to have Littleton negotiate with AmSouth on this. Hines cast the single "no" vote, and Councilman Tony Aikens was absent.