By Ed Galucki
Within about three weeks of being first brought to the attention of the public works committee, the Cabot City Council has declared conditions at the South Linden Street Apartment Complex to be a hazard, opening the way to possible forced vacating of the apartments in about five weeks.
Despite pleas by the property owner for the council to delay action, the council voted unanimously to make the declaration.
Mayor Bill Cypert and aldermen Eddie Long, Kevin Davis, Patrick Hutton, Jon Moore, Angie Hoschouer, Rick Prentice, Ann Gilliam and Ryan Flynn attended the meeting.
Problems at the Linden Street apartments were first brought to the attention of the Public Works Committee during the Oct. 1 meeting by a group of East Elm Street residents. The residents called for the city’s help in stopping a decline of property conditions in their neighborhood and to stem a growing crime problem.
While conditions of apparently abandoned homes in the area were described, most of the residents considered the nearby Linden Street apartments to be the greatest problem.
While the public works committee was not able to take action, the residents were invited to attend the Oct. 8 Hazardous Structures Committee meeting. The committee members recommended the city council take action.
Inspection by code enforcement found rot and water damage, unprotected breaker boxes, cracked walls, deteriorating siding, mold, shingle damage and indications of damage to roofs and failing foundations.
The report, included in the council meeting package, noted, "This entire apartment complex is in a state of disrepair as to cause hazard to the public … Every complex has issues with mold, rot, trash, exposed electrical wiring, improper electrical wiring…"
Pictures of the problem areas were included in the report.
During public comment on the resolution, Robert Kennedy, identifying himself as the property owner, asked the council to consider delaying the action pending the closing of the sale of the apartments. Kennedy said he feared the prospective buyer would be dissuaded from completing sale should there be such an action by the city.
The buyer is fully aware of the conditions at the apartments, he said. The buyer is owner of a maintenance company, "So this is not new ground to him. He is coming in and rehabbing the complex," Kennedy said.
Also, he is owner of a number of low-income rentals, "He has the skill and experience to deal with this kind of tenants," Kennedy said.
If the city were to force the issue, it could cause unnecessary delay in repairing the units, Kennedy said.
Should the sale be unobstructed, the buyer wants to close by Nov. 30, Kennedy said.
Prentice responded that the problems at the apartments have been developing over years. "This is not something that popped up overnight," he said.
"You had a responsibility to keep this place maintained," Prentice said.
Prentice called for the council to continue the action. "If [Kennedy] can sell the property that’s fine …," he said.
City attorney Jimmy Taylor said Kennedy has 30 days to appeal the action in circuit court. At the end of the 30 days, the resolution would go into effect and the city could invoke the seven-day notice to vacate the apartments.
Long said his concern is for safety the children who are living in the apartments. I’m not asking for the Taj Mahal over there. But I am asking for something that is safe and sanitary. That is all I am asking."
Wendell Gibson, who identified himself as owner of Arkansas Homes, Land and Realty, supported Kennedy’s call for delay. "You need to think twice about pulling the trigger on this guy tonight," he said.
If the buildings are closed and boarded, "You are going to be spending a lot of the city’s money by keeping them boarded up," he said.
Closing the buildings will not stop problems, Gibson said. "We are talking about people who are not civilized, the way I call it … They are tough customers," he said.
If Kennedy has a contract to sell, giving him time to complete the contract should be considered, Gibson said.
Prentice said fixing buildings would be a "major undertaking." The extent of the work needed would require the tenants be moved out, he said.
After nearly an hour of discussion, the council approved the resolution on a voice vote with no one voicing opposition.
Also during open discussion, Anthony DiBlasi, who said he owns a house at the end of Linden Street, added to the complaints of crime in the area. The house, used by his son, has been broken into several times. Though they installed cameras and caught some of the perpetrators, since they were minors there is little that can be done, DiBlasi.
"I am a little stressed out over the whole thing. It is my son’s safety that I am concerned about, plus what is going on in the neighborhood," he said.
However, DiBlasi said, the city can help by installing lighting in the area.
"You drive down Linden tonight, it is a dark alley. There is one light in front of the apartments … The immediate thing that can be done right now is put some more lighting out there," he said.