The Jefferson City Council unanimously approved a measure Monday night directing the city administrator to halt the process that could lead to demolition of specific properties owned by the city and its Parks department in the central east side of town.
The measure introduced by First Ward Councilman Jim Branch calls for a three-month halt on any demolition process for the following pieces of property:
"This would give us time to see if we can find out if there are ways to address concerns the residents of the area have raised," Branch said.
What led to Monday's action by the council began when a notice went out a few weeks ago about an environmental review in regard to demolition of a city-owned property on Lafayette Street. Some residents of the area began to contact officials at City Hall to see if this was the prelude for more such actions in the area.
That led to an informational meeting about the Central East Side Neighborhood Floodplain.
City officials said the notice went out for 408 Lafayette St. after they received federal funding approval to proceed with the demolition process. Two nearby properties, 410 Lafayette St. and 623 School Street, are both owned by the Parks department and were seen as next to go through the demolition process.
These properties basically connect with one another and have been deemed as uninhabitable with damage to much of the structures.
Because they are in the floodplain and considered potential safety and health hazards, city officials cited the Central East Side Neighborhood Plan adopted in 2004 called for converting several areas adjacent to the Wears Creek floodplain to open space and minimize property damage during floods.
A public park or civic space was recommended on the east end of the East High Street Business District to serve as a focal point.
Sonny Sanders with the city's Planning Department said there was not a plan for mass demolitions in that area. Under the 2004 plan, the city would try to purchase properties as they became available, if the owner was willing to sell it to the city and not on the National Historic Register. Under the neighborhood plan, Sanders said, they would eventually look at bringing the properties down, if they are in the floodplain and make it into a grass or park space.
Sanders said after the inquiries about the demolition process, city staff had already stopped the process for 408 and 410 Lafayette St., as well as 623 School St.
Area property owners said the city was inadvertently looking at bringing down properties that could be refurbished and put back on the tax rolls.
"I talked with nine property owners in the area and they weren't happy to hear about this," said Tony Smith, who owns property in the 600 block of East McCarty. "Most of us did not know this. I know our Realtors didn't tell us anything."
In 2012, FEMA did a revision to hazards on the 100-year floodplain, which raised base floor elevations of properties in the floodplain 2 feet from the last revisions in 2005. City officials said FEMA did this because the 2005 map was found to be inaccurate and contained many errors.
Property owners said the area hasn't flooded, and the city should try to have FEMA reexamine what they have on the map. Other property owners said the city would lose revenue if property owners weren't able to make improvements, many of which aren't allowed in a floodplain under FEMA rules.
"Are we wasting our time making the improvements?" asked Wynn Harrison, who owns three parcels in the area. "Show us what we can do."
City Administrator Steve Crowell said he would continue to work to get a FEMA representative to come and talk to property owners and the council.
Property owners noted this area did have problems in 2004, but there has been an upswing since then.