City gets ‘crash course’ on buildings

Business owners urge quick action to end ‘blight’
Reporter Editor

Badly-damaged Cameo building still mired in ownership issues. 
Reporter file photo/Mike Brown Badly-damaged Cameo building still mired in ownership issues. Reporter file photo/Mike Brown Rockdale City Council members got an earful Monday from some downtown business owners who are frustrated at the pace of action after the Aug. 29-30, 2012, wall collapse which damaged several buildings.

Collier Perry of Perry & Perry Builders termed the untouched collapsed structures a “blight, affecting everything” and creating a negative impact on attempts to promote the town, such as next month’s Tejas Fest.

The council, advised by their attorney not to comment for legal reasons, didn’t respond. But City Manager Kelvin Knauf said the city has been in touch with owners, and presumed owners, and was in the process of appointing a Building Standards Commission, an entity which might be able to begin resolving the matter.

Later in the meeting the council named four members to the committee, bringing it for the first time to its full five-member strength.

Gloria Thrasher, who said she was “a prior part-owner” of the Cameo Insurance building, viewed as the key to the situation, outlined the complicated ownership reasons which have, so far, stymied progress.

Meeting in regular session at City Hall, the council also okayed an increase in trash collection rates—one that won’t be felt yet by most customers—and continued to discuss hiring a professional firm to promote tourism and lodging.

CRASH—In two separate events last Aug. 29 and 30, a 125-year-old brick retaining wall on top of the 100 block of East Cameron (US 79), north side, collapsed, damaging several buildings fronting Cameron and Main streets.

Cameo Insurance and Old Tyme Antiques buildings were the most seriously damaged, and investigators in the days following the collapse theorized one or both buildings would have to be razed.

It’s also believed getting an inspection and evaluation of the Cameo building, which was the most heavily damaged, is linked with the eventual fates of the other structures, and is the first step toward resolving the structures.

Perry asked why “nothing has happened” since the collapse.

“The history in Rockdale is that things go on and on and on,” he said. “Burned out buildings take years to come down?”

Perry asked if the city knew who the owners of the Cameo building are and if it had met with them.

“Who’s driving this bus?” Perry asked.

Chris Dyess of Dyess Insurance, and president of the Rockdale Downtown Association also voiced concern.

“I agree with Collier saying this is a blight,” Dyess said. “Many of us have spent a lot of time and effort trying to get new businesses and keep the ones we’ve got. This has a negative impact on everything we’re trying to do.”

COMPLEX—Thrasher said the person who technically owns the Cameo building is deceased.

“Her husband is now the legal owner and we’ve been trying to talk to him and get him to understand, but he doesn’t seem to want to cooperate,” she said. “As of today, we haven’t been able to do anything, and that’s where it’s at.”

Thrasher said legal action is probable.

Mayor Larry Jones pointed out last year’s Texas Supreme Court ruling which ruled against the City of Dallas in a case involving razing a building brought municipal demolitions to a halt throughout the state.

Creation of an appeals process, involving a Building Standards Commission, was a reaction to that ruling.

“This is something that takes months,” he said. “We all agree this is something we’d like to move on but the legal process has got to play out or you don’t have anything.”

COMMISSION— Natha n Bland, Trent Wages, Elmo Miller and Clifford Bartlett were appointed to the Building Standards

Commission, joining current member Richard Henderson on the five-member board.

While that fills out the active board, no alternates have yet been appointed.

Prior to the agenda item dealing with the building questions, Jones told council members they had been advised by City Attorney Michelle Lehmkuhl not to comment.

“That’s because in the appeals process involving the Building Standards Commission, this council is the appellate body,” Jones said. “We could some day be asked to rule on this very case.”

PROMOTION—The council heard a presentation from Aria Agency, the third firm to submit a proposal for advertising and the promotion of tourism and lodging in Rockdale.

The city is considering using funds once administered by the Chamber of Commerce to hire an outside firm.

Dr. Lucille Estell asked that local organizations be asked for input before any such decision is made.

The council agreed to hold a workshop, including such organizations, at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

TRASH RATES—Progressive Waste Solutions, formerly known as IESI, the city’s trash collection contractor, was granted a two-percent consumer price index (CPI) increase.

The increase will not be passed on to local customers who are billed through the city, but will be felt by those who have contracts with Progressive and billed directly by the company.

In other business Monday, the council:

• Endorsed the Municipal Development District’s (MDD) plans to spend up to $30,000 for a facade improvement incentive program.

• Gave second reading approval to ordinances establishing the Comprehensive City Plan, cresting tax abatement procedures and calling for the May 11 election.

• Decided to re-apply for a Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District grant with funds targeted for water line improvement.

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