A prominent downtown property has been moved to the city’s official “blighted” list after safety and structural problems were recently discovered.
The new label for 56 S. Market St. comes as part of the latest update to the city’s blighted property and property watch list. The building was previously listed as a watch property, meaning “one with the potential to become blighted.” The property was moved to the blighted category as of the Sept. 29 updated list.
The list, and corresponding code enforcement process, is one of several approaches the city is using to ensure the South Market Street building is either demolished or shored up. Two engineering reports, one commissioned by the city and one by property owner Suitland Road LLC, each called for either demolition or supports to address severe structural problems.
In an interview Monday, Frederick Mayor Randy McClement pointed to the combination of code violations, structural analysis and recent hearings in Frederick County District Court as evidence of the city’s commitment to force repairs to the long-vacant, dilapidated building.
“Whatever steps we can take to force the issue, we’ll force the issue,” McClement said.
Suitand Road LLC, which lists Montgomery County resident Tarek Aly as its principal, has planned to redevelop the site at 56-70 S. Market St. as a two-building apartment complex with first-floor commercial space.
Plan of action
The city has established a timeline for the property owner to resolve outstanding violations, complete repairs, and stabilize or demolish the building.
The city last week gave permission to the property owner to demolish a free-standing brick wall at the rear of the property, bypassing the Historic Preservation Commission’s review typically required for demolition in the Frederick Town Historic District. Both engineering reports recommended that the wall be demolished immediately.
Aly had until Friday to complete the demolition. The wall was demolished as of Tuesday afternoon, although the bricks and rubble still remained on the property.
Had the owner failed to meet the deadline for demolition, the city would have hired a contractor to complete the work and placed a lien on the property for the cost.
The city also required that the property owner begin the application process to repair or demolish the entirety of the building. The property owner previously received the HPC’s blessing to demolish the rear, two-story portion of the building and the adjacent free-standing facades.
Aly on Monday resubmitted that application, seeking HPC permission to demolish the rear section and facades without first submitting a replacement plan for approval, according to information provided by Patti Mullins, city spokeswoman. The city’s guidelines for demolition in the historic district typically prevent demolition until a replacement plan has also been approved.
The HPC will on Oct. 13 consider the request to remove the conditions it placed on its prior approvals.
Aly also plans to seek approval for demolishing the front, three-story section of the building, according to Abdullah Hijazi, an attorney representing him. The earliest the HPC could consider that request is its Oct. 27 meeting.
Although both engineering reports described the need to address safety issues as “imperative” and “urgent,” the monthlong wait before the HPC can weigh in will not exacerbate the potential safety hazards, according to Tracy Coleman, city engineer.
“The building is going to fall down someday. Is it going to be today, or 30 years from now? No engineer would know the answer to that,” Coleman said in an interview Monday.
McClement also noted that the building remained standing through historic snowfalls last winter, and recent heavy rain.
If the property owner does not follow through with the necessary applications, as some of his past actions might indicate, McClement said he was prepared to double down on enforcement measures. He did not have a specific plan for what or how the city would force the issue as of Tuesday, however.
Upping the ante
The city may soon have another option to force progress on the building under a proposed expansion to the city’s receivership program.
The Board of Aldermen on Thursday will vote on changes to the receivership ordinance to increase the situations in which the city can take ownership of a blighted or condemned property. Specifically, the amendment submitted by Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak would include owners of condemned properties or those that have not complied with court-ordered repair of property violations.
If approved, the South Market Street property would qualify. A Frederick County District Court judge previously ordered the property owner to seek approvals and permits to demolish or repair the problems identified by city code enforcement within a certain time frame.
The receivership program was established through an ordinance approved in 2013. The program gives the city the ability to take the owner of a habitually vacant, unsafe and nuisance property to court. The court can either force the owner to make upgrades, or take the property from the owner and sell it to a qualified owner, with requirements attached to fix up the property in a set time period.
The original receivership ordinance defined eligible properties under specific criteria. Those include properties that are fire hazards, have unsecured windows and doors, or attract illegal activity and calls for police service.
The city has not pursued the receivership option for any property since the policy was enacted, according to Brittany Parks, assistant manager of code enforcement.
McClement said he was open to pursuing the receivership option with the 56 S. Market St. property. He emphasized, though, that the property must meet the ordinance requirements, and get the go-ahead from court, for the city to seize the property.
“If it rises to that level, we’ll consider it,” he said. “But it’s not just up to us. There’s a whole set of things that have to happen.”
Follow Nancy Lavin on Twitter: @NancyKLavin.