Carmack-Jay's old site

This aerial photo taken in July shows the building on the old Carmack-Jay's grocery store site in the 300 block of North Market Street in downtown Frederick that has remained vacant for many years.

As discussion and dissatisfaction over blighted properties grows among city residents, one specific term has come under fire — condemnation.

Specifically, community members criticize the effectiveness and fairness of the city process that condemns some properties and not others that seemingly meet the criteria for condemnation.

City code, based on the International Property Maintenance Code, defines condemned buildings as those without connected utilities, illumination, ventilation or other indicators that make it unfit for human occupancy.

Code officials “shall” condemn any structure found to be unsafe, unlawful or unfit for human occupancy, although there are no further details regarding what constitutes an unsafe or unlawful structure under the city code. The building department can also condemn buildings as uninhabitable based on structural safety issues.

Structures that meet this definition receive a placard to be placed in public view on the building, indicating that it is condemned and that no one can live there.

As of Tuesday, 11 city properties are condemned — four by code enforcement and seven by staff in the building department, according to information provided by Nikki Bamonti, the mayor’s executive assistant. Prior condemnations at two other properties were lifted in the last two months.

The sticking point for some observers is the difference between condemned buildings and those with code violations. City officials maintain that a condemnation does not necessarily mean there are also code violations, mentioning the Asiana building at 123-125 N. Market St. as one example of this situation.

Although property owner Duk Hee Ro faced numerous code violations when the city identified the downtown building on its blight list in June 2014, all violations have been corrected and the building has brought up to code, according to the city’s code inspection database. But the property remains condemned because basic utilities have not been installed, making it unfit for human occupancy, Bamonti told The News-Post previously.

Residents, in turn, make an example of the Asiana building as evidence that the enforcement mechanisms for condemned buildings are limited, at best.

Ro has not returned numerous voice messages and certified letters from The News-Post asking for comment on several of her properties.

‘Scarlet letter’

“Condemnation is, at its best, a scarlet letter,” said local resident and blight watch activist Ned Bond. “Once we throw the sticker on it, we’re done.”

Truby LaGarde, a coordinator and resident of Neighborhood Advisory Council 11, where many of the blighted and condemned buildings in the city are concentrated, agreed.

Condemning a building is the first step, she said, but enforcement can’t end there.

A condemnation forces the property owner to secure any structurally unsound components of the building, according to city code. Failure to do so within a specified time frame results in the city securing the structure and charging the property owner for the service by placing a tax lien on the building.

Condemning a building also lets law enforcement officials enforce the “no occupancy” requirement, including the ability to directly remove any people living in a condemned building without first having to consult city staff, according to Bamonti.

In what Bamonti described as a last resort, the city can also take ownership of a blighted, private property through eminent domain if the building has so severely deteriorated without being fixed that it poses a “serious and growing menace to the public safety, health and welfare,” according to city code.

But the city can’t force a property owner to hook up utilities, or find tenants or new owners, which would violate basic private property rights, elected officials and city staff have said.

The scope of enforcement encompassed through a condemnation could be broadened, though. Kathryn McKenzie, an original member of the city Blighted and Vacant Ad Hoc Committee recently reinstated by Mayor Randy McClement, said the group should make the condemnation definition one of its priorities.

“I definitely think we have to take a look at condemnation and maybe expand upon the remedies for that,” she said.

Although a building can be condemned and not blighted, or vice versa, each one can lead to the other in a chain reaction, she said.

“If we allow either one of those things to get out of control, we get a situation like 56 S. Market,” Bond agreed, referring to a prominent blight site along Carroll Creek.

A fairness issue

The South Market Street roofless building and series of facades is one of several some residents point to as evidence of the inequity with which the city condemns some properties and not others.

The original buildings were torn down decades ago and the remains sold at auction to a Montgomery County resident in 2011, The News-Post previously reported. But the site has never been condemned, according to Bamonti.

Bamonti explained the lack of condemnation, in part, to the unique challenge posed by the property’s characteristics. The facades at 58-70 S. Market St. are just walls separating the empty lot from the public sidewalk, not actual buildings.

As for the roofless building at 56 S. Market St., Bamonti said that condemnations typically result from complaints reported about a specific property, which prompt inspection from code enforcement.

“We can only condemn what we know about,” she said. “Unless we get a complaint, we don’t necessarily know.”

But city resident Bruce Albaugh questioned how the property owner played into the city’s pursuance of a condemnation or code violation notice.

“Mrs. Ro is kind of an easy, low-hanging fruit,” Albaugh said. “They seem to be picking on her but letting other places in much worse condition get a free pass.”

Albaugh named the Union Mills building owned by Douglas Development Corp. as one that — until recent renovation work began — seemed to meet the criteria for condemnation. But it has never been condemned, according to Bamonti.

Similarly, Douglas’ building on North Market Street, which sits on what is colloquially known as the Carmack-Jay’s property, has sat vacant since the company purchased it in 2002, but the city has not condemned it.

Jim Mackintosh, a Realtor with Mackintosh Realtors Inc. handling the leasing of both properties, declined to comment on the lack of condemnations or accusations of unfairness.

Bond echoed Albaugh’s comments, pointing to the city’s fear of litigation and “good old boy network” as factors involved in which property owners face city enforcement.

He wasn’t sure what it would take to spark the necessary changes, however.

“Dealing with the city is like playing three-card monte,” he said. “You know you’re not going to win. It’s always a sham.”

Follow Nancy Lavin on Twitter: @Nancy_Lavin228.

city of Frederick condemned properties

Condemned city properties as of September 2015

* indicates condemnation has been lifted since then

Field 3 Field 1 Field 2 Field 4 Field 5 Field 6 Field 7 Field 8
Address Condemned by Property owner at time of condemnation current property owner Date condemned reason for condemnation Code violations Listed on blight and property watch list
123 -125 N. Market St. code enforcement Julia & James Properties same Aug. 27, 2013 unfit for human occupancy None open. Several now closed. yes
107 E. Fifth St. code enforcement D. M. Grossnickle and T. M. Fischer Habitat for Humanity of Frederick County Nov. 10, 2004 unsafe structure Four open violations. yes
314 N. Market St. code enforcement Julia & James Properties same March 9, 2012 unfit for human occupancy None open. Several now closed. No
5720 Butterfly Lane code enforcement Raymond Crowe same May 19, 2014 unsafe structure Five open. Several now closed. no
111 E. Seventh St. code enforcement* Julia & James Properties same Sept. 10, 2015 unfit for human occupancy None open. Numerous now closed. yes
20 W. Fourth St. building department city of Frederick same May 19, 2014 Deterioration of rear addition. No yes
323 S. Market St. building department Sally Marie Fulmer same Nov. 3, 2014 fire none no
325 S. Market St. building department Donald and Carolyn Court same Nov, 3, 2014 fire no no
327 S. Market St. building department Annabelle Cannon same Nov, 3, 2014 fire no no
329 S. Market St. building department Greggory Housler same Nov, 3, 2014 fire no no
333 S. Market St. building department* James Sinclair same Nov, 3, 2014 fire no no
331 S. Market St. building department Bruce David O'Hara same Nov, 3, 2014 fire no no
8 Monroe St. building department * Bare Properties LLC same n/a fire None open. Three now closed. no

Nancy Lavin covers social services, demographics and religion for The Frederick News-Post.

(3) comments

MAVRICKinc7

Haven't seen this much word manipulation and mumbo-jumbo in a very long time. Or, is this just typical of the Frederick REGION and local government afraid of itself and its own shadow? Any reference to ETHICS in local government was bought generations ago which accounts for "doing nothing" which appears to be a National past time. The RO family is not the low hanging fruit, but the facilitator of slum lord mentalities which Frederick City government endorses for the sake of tax dollars and the pretence of government liens against condemned properties and with the same legal-eze that the Mayors office can't bring itself to acknowledge, because it involves wealthy parasites beyond Frederick's own means to do anything about other than to raise the litigation flag and return to the back of the bus, for fear of being found out that words and law language is wearing thin to those who have to or want to live in squaller at the beheast of slum landlords who pay tax premiums to the City, just to be left alone and out of sight. How many comps are there in real estate manipulation as the slums become more apparent, one fleck of falling paint at a time and a buying market that's being reduced to "buyers beware?" While we are allowed to yell FOUL, at the top of our lungs, who, within government ranks is even listening. We are allowed to drive by condemned properties and WATCH, until WE no longer have occassion to do anything but ignore what local Government refuses to do anything about. And we think Frederick is better than the slums of Baltimore, because we are the WHITE source of doing things when we're no better than the black and people of color communities we allow to happen just as local Frederick WHITE government is doing now. There's only so much white wash to go around before the City ALLOWS itself to crumble around the term "condemnation" and call it something else, that only returns back to the same point it started from generations of good ole boys ago.

As an attractive nusiance, someone will eventually take the bait and hurt themselves and neighboring communities by virtue of a tax stipend that City government can only afford while mother nature takes its toll.

cldeboin

Surely if anything needs to be condemned it's nepotism, the "old boy" mentality,
and ethical inequity !!!

elymus43

These properties will probably fall down on their own, before the city does anything.

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