Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

September 12, 2013

Forum addresses residents’ concerns

Former Yum Yums building denounced as eyesore, citizens frustrated with pace of rehabilitation efforts

Amy Brocato Pearson
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — An informal exchange between city officials and residents started out tense Wednesday afternoon, but most participants seemed pacified by the end of the hour-long session.

The forum was called after some residents blanketed social media with complaints they were not allowed to speak during the Citizen’s Forum portion of the monthly City Council meeting Tuesday evening.

"Let me be clear," said Mayor Kenneth Melvin at the opening of Wednesday's discussion. "Last night one of the people who wanted to speak at Citizen's Forum wanted to speak about an item that was on the agenda. I could not let him speak because it was an agenda item and citizens cannot speak to agenda items."

About a dozen residents attended the meeting, held in the Municipal Courtroom to allow for space, and the topic foremost on everyone's mind was how the city is handling the clean up and resuscitation of the former Yum Yums building, which burned on April 28, and the area surrounding it.

Jacksonville resident Emily Griffin owns the two buildings adjacent to the former Yum Yums and holds the note on the Yum Yums building itself, which she purchased from the bank immediately after the fire. When the meeting ended, Griffin was still frustrated with process.

"The city is not enforcing codes at all," she said. "It's their responsibility to enforce the codes."

The city counters that they are doing everything they can to clean up the eyesore that is worrying so many area residents and business owners.

"It's a process," said Director of Public Works Will Cole. "We have to go through all the steps and follow the rules. It's due process."

The problem stems from the fact the owner of the building is not cooperating with the city, according to city officials.

According to the Cherokee County Central Appraisal District, the property is valued at $74,970 and owned by a Robert and Tina Lane.

While the city has spent $11,000 so far to clean up the right of way - the sidewalks, alley and streets near the building, it is the responsibility of Lane to clean up the rubble inside.

In addition, as Griffin contends, it is the city's responsibility to levy fines, up to $1,000 a day, if Lane does not comply.

City Manager Mo Raissi said the last time he met with Lane, it was "unpleasant" and that Lane has not returned any phone calls or correspondence in several months.

The municipal court has not assessed any fines in the case so far.

Lane could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Residents fired questions at Melvin, Cole and Raissi on Wednesday and the trio patiently answered questions on everything from code enforcement to purchase by a third party to asbestos surveys and whether or not area residents could "volunteer" to come clean up the wreckage at 215 S. Main St.

"If there's no asbestos in the building then get your tractors and trailers and trucks down there and start hauling off bricks," Melvin said.

An asbestos survey must be completed before the rubble can be cleaned away, because the presence of asbestos changes the way the site will be handled as it's dismantled.  

Cole alleges the property owner claimed he was commissioning the survey, but to date, one has not be completed.

Melvin urged residents to believe that the city is working "behind the scenes" to take care of this issue. A hearing will be held Oct. 8 to determine the next course of action.

"It's not like everyone is sitting around taking a  nap," Cole stressed.

It's not happening fast enough for Griffin, who owns two businesses she cannot operate because of the situation.

"I guess I'll just have to wait until Oct. 8," she said at the conclusion of the discussion. "But I can't put off two years of work until this is resolved."

Councilwoman Ann Chandler tried to placate Griffin.

"You'll never get back in those buildings," she said.

"Oh I will," Griffin responded determinedly. "I'll reopen there or I'll relocate to another city."

Many of the residents who attended the discussion characterized themselves as the "younger generation" of Jackson-ville families who were ready to step up and help.

"As citizens we're wanting to be useful, to figure out a solution," said resident Cassie Devillier, who attended with her well-behaved young daughter.

"Our generation is ready to step up and get things changed in Jacksonville," she said.

Raissi said he welcomed the help of community volunteers and would find a way to put them to work for the betterment of the city.