25 demolitions planned in city

Legal issues delay action from summer 2012 collapse
Reporter Editor

Demolition has begun on the former Heavenly Treasures building, to be replaced by a new Mundo Apostolico Pentecostes temple. 
Reporter/Mike Brown Demolition has begun on the former Heavenly Treasures building, to be replaced by a new Mundo Apostolico Pentecostes temple. Reporter/Mike Brown Twenty-five Rockdale structures are “on the list” for demolition, and action is currently being taken on five, as the city’s substandard building program gears up on several fronts for 2013.

The two most prominent candidates for demolition—two downtown buildings damaged by the Aug. 29-30 collapse of a 19th-Century wall—aren’t on the list just yet.

One is tied up in legal issues over a title, according to Lon Williams, code enforcement officer for the City of Rockdale.

But demolition has finally begun on a building damaged over eight years ago after an adjacent structure collapsed and fell into Main Street.

On yet another “front,” Rockdale’s revised Building Standards Commission, which would come into play if the city wants to take legal action against property owners, can’t yet function because it is two members short of being a full commission.

The Garcia Building is razed on Dec. 11, 2004. Heavenly Treasures Building (red brick at left center) is coming down this year. 
Reporter/Mike Brown The Garcia Building is razed on Dec. 11, 2004. Heavenly Treasures Building (red brick at left center) is coming down this year. Reporter/Mike Brown Anyone with a desire to serve is urged to contact City Hall.

COLLAPSE—Not much has changed on the north side of the 100 block of East Cameron since a 125-year retaining wall collapsed on Aug. 29-30.

Action, including razing the two buildings, is still anticipated, according to Williams.

“We’ve been working with the owners of the two buildings most affected ever since the wall came down,” he said. “They’ve been very cooperative, but what’s been holding up everything is a title question over the Cameo Insurance building.”

Cameo Insurance and Old Tyme Antiques were the most seriously damaged of the five buildings affected.

“Both buildings need to be inspected, but there’s really nothing the other owner can do until the title question over the Cameo building is cleared up,” Williams said. “That has to be resolved, then somebody can get in there and determine what has to be done.”

“Right now, it’s a legal thing and we’ve got to let that play out,” he said.

Three other buildings, all fronting Main Street, received structural damage in the collapse. Cliff’s Tavern and Ram Optical re- opened. O’Barr-Rost Real Estate was in the process of moving across Main Street when the wall collapsed and that move was completed.

A vacant, two-story building on the corner of Main and Cameron sustained only electrical wiring damage in the collapse.

Williams said he did not anticipate any issues from the collapse would come before the Building Standards Commission.

“That’s something which only comes into play when the city can’t reach an agreement with the owner of the structure in question and that’s not the case here,” he said.

EIGHT YEARS—Demolition work has begun on a North Main Street structure which was damaged just over eight years ago after the next-door building collapsed.

The 19th Century brick building contained Heavenly Treasures thrift shop until Nov. 26, 2004, when the historic Garcia Building next door collapsed into rubble, part of it falling into Main Street.

No one was injured. The collapse occurred on Thanksgiving evening.

Fernando Gonzales, who is overseeing the demolition, said the property owner is now the Mundo Apostolico Pentecostes Church, which is currently meeting at the corner of Ackerman and San Andres.

“They plan to put up a temple once the demolition is completed,” Gonzales said.

The Garcia building had been involved in a lengthy legal quandary over ownership.

Originally condemned by the city, the building was at one time considered a candidate for restoration. Built in the late 1870s, just after the founding of Rockdale, it was once the corner building of the frontier city’s notorious “Rat Row,” on North Main.

But a myriad of unpaid taxes, and unknown family members of the original owner, complicated action, and the structure remained untouched until it fell of its own accord.

Two weeks later, on Dec. 11, 2004, the remainder of the Garcia Building was demolished but the Heavenly Treasures building remained standing until this year’s demolition work began.

Gonzales said work will resume once an agreement is worked out with the city, over who owns the old building’s walls, which are still standing at present.

He said a meeting with city officials is scheduled this week.

RESUMING—Williams said since 2007 the city has torn down 43 structures but had to restructure its procedure last year in the wake of a far-reaching Texas Supreme Court decision.

A Dallas woman sued that city after it tore down a dilapidated structure she owned, claiming she had been denied due process under an appeals structure.

The state’s highest court agreed and awarded her $75,000 in damages. That got the attention of virtually every municipality in the state with a demolition ordinance.

Last summer the city re-tooled its ordinance, creating additional appeal opportunities, even a 30-day window in which the affected party may choose to file a district court lawsuit.

But the reorganized Building Standards Commission still isn’t up to speed.

“We have three members and we need five,” Williams said. “We’re going to need the full commission. The way things are set up, that commission will rule whenever a situation where the city and a land owner can’t come to an agreement.”

City Manager Kelvin Knauf said the only qualification for serving on the commission is residence within the city limits.

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