The main development out of Wednesday’s Cleburne Building and Standards Commission meeting was that Bill’s Bookstore building in downtown escaped, for a month at least, the wrecking ball.
Board members granted the 30-day extension hoping for resolution to the situation — which at this point, all involved seem to agree, remains a long shot.
Board members and Cleburne Fire Chief Clint Ishmael struggled with Ishmael’s recommendation that the building be condemned and demolished. All stressed they do not want to tear down Bill’s or any other downtown building but grappled with the reality that options are running thin.
The hope, board members said, is that someone will buy the building. The reality is that the cost of necessary repairs and abatement of violations likely outweigh the value of the property.
City leaders, citing numerous violations, shut the building down in May. Longtime owner Bill Miller, who has since moved to Grandview, said he does not have the funds to make the necessary repairs. Attempts to sell the building have been unsuccessful and city officials said the building now requires the extra cost of an asbestos survey.
Miller did not attend Wednesday’s meeting but later the same day said he holds little hope that his building can be saved or sold at this point. The building, Miller said, is the oldest, or one of the oldest, commercial buildings in downtown.
Although Miller’s building was the sole commercial building recommended for demolition on Wednesday, it is but one of several downtown buildings in trouble.
Two adjoining downtown buildings at 111 E. Henderson St. and 113 E. Henderson St. may soon face condemnation if the owners fail to make progress toward repair.
Co-owner Carlos Rodriguez told board members he hopes to “gather funds” after he pays his taxes to begin repairs and to contact his brother in New York, another co-owner, to ask for help.
City officials argue, however, that Rodriguez has had several extensions and done little or nothing to correct the building’s violations. The buildings have been for sale for four years with no buyer found.
During that time, Rodriguez said he painted, cleaned up, installed a bathroom and removed rotted flooring in one of the buildings. No new floor has been installed leaving a dirt floor in part of that building while plywood covers the broken window of one of the buildings.
Simply replacing windows is not an option, Cleburne Building Official Willie Stevenson said since the wood framing is rotted and also needs to be replaced. The walls of the building need to be inspected by an engineer as well, Stevenson said, for structural deficiencies.
Cleburne business owner Fred Garza spoke in favor of preserving downtown’s historic buildings and suggested that Rodriguez and his co-owners consider lowering their asking prices.
“The problem is there’s more owed on those buildings that what they are worth,” Cleburne Fire Marshal Bill Wright said. “So buyers are going to be hard to find and the current owners are just kind of stuck.”
Wright and Building and Standards members, in reference to Garza’s comments, stressed that it lies beyond the scope of the commission or the city to comment on or involve themselves in private real estate transactions or the prices thereof.
The purpose of Building and Standards and code enforcement is to ensure Cleburne properties and structures are kept up to code for the health and safety of the community, officials said.
“The owner has no resources or means to affect any repairs,” Ishmael said during Wednesday’s meeting. “But it’s the property owner’s responsibility to maintain their properties.
“We have to do something on these buildings to move forward. The commission in December asked [Rodriguez] to come back [in February] and I’m not sure how much more time we can grant.”
If something is not done soon, Wright said, the buildings will have to be condemned.
“We’re concerned about the safety of those buildings, which are deteriorating right before our eyes,” Building and Standards Chairman Robert Ledlow told Rodriguez. “But we’ve seen no progress toward correcting the problems and we’re at a standstill. Fixing up and renting those buildings is not in the game plan at this point. We want to see these buildings stand safely and proudly in downtown and definitely don’t want to see them come down, but at this point just replacing windows is not going to fix the problem. What we need to know is, what plan do you have?”
Board member Luanna Ward expressed the sentiment of the board and city officials.
“We don’t want to see these buildings demolished,” Ward said. “We want to do what we can to save the buildings in downtown.”
The Catch-22, Ishmael and other officials have said in recent months is that several downtown buildings require repairs beyond the owner’s resources and it’s unlikely anyone else will buy the buildings knowing they’d have to pay for those repairs in addition to the owner’s selling price. The options are to address the problems, which may unfortunately lead to condemnation and demolition in some cases, or let the buildings continue to deteriorate and pose health and safety hazards.
Board members granted Rodriguez 30 days to come back with a plan of action and with the understanding that the clock is ticking on the situation.
Building and Standards members also addressed a building on 204 S. Main St. owned by Cleburne attorney Robert De Los Santos in trust for his son. The building, adjacent to De Los Santos’ law office, formerly housed an antique store before it caught on fire last year.
De Los Santos said he failed to buy insurance on the building. Seeing that progress toward repairs is being made, board members granted De Los Santos 60 days to address remaining violations.