Residents are frustrated with city of Frederick officials because they say they are being misled about the progress that has been made addressing code violations at the vacant Asiana restaurant downtown.
A city attorney asked a Frederick County judge in October to waive citations against the owners of the property associated with code violations, telling the judge that all building code issues related to citations had been addressed.
But the building is still unfit for occupancy, was not secure at the time of the court case, and needs flooring repairs, electrical and plumbing work. Those are all issues identified in the original violations associated with the citations.
City officials are not being transparent to residents at a time when they need to be, said Truby LaGarde, leader of the downtown area’s neighborhood advisory council.
“I think at this stage of the game, people are discouraged, to put it gently, discouraged (in) many respects,” she said.
The city issued the owners 10 citations in March for up to $1,000 each after the owners failed to bring the building, at 123-125 N. Market St., up to code.
To address one of the citations, the owners paid $1,000 and signed a consent order.
During the court hearing in October addressing the remaining nine citations, city attorney Scott Waxter told the judge that the city had inspected the property and that all of the problems had been addressed.
When residents emailed the city saying they were concerned that the citations had been dismissed, Nikki Bamonti, executive assistant to Mayor Randy McClement, responded.
“The property owner completed all necessary repairs to address the outstanding code violations,” she wrote. “The citations that were issued were written for specific code violations, many of which addressed major structural issues for the property. Those matters have been corrected and the citations issued for those specific code violations were dismissed upon the completion of the repairs.”
Last week, when asked about the building issues that were not addressed but were included in the original violations, Waxter and Bamonti said the city decided at the time to dismiss the citations without going point by point through each problem in the building.
They said at the time that it was a strategic move by the city to dismiss the citations to go back later and be more specific in the violations about what work needed to be done. More violations have now been issued.
“It was more to give us leverage,” Waxter said.
When asked to make a final comment on the subject Tuesday, Waxter said he was concerned it is being insinuated that he made a material misrepresentation to the court, and that is not true.
He reiterated his comments made in court that all violations addressed by the citations were acted upon at the time of the court case.
Ned Bond, who owns Da Black Cat, two storefronts down from the Asiana, said the city was and continues to be deceptive with the actual status of the building.
At the time of the hearing, Bond said he knew that not all repairs associated with the violations had been completed.
He said that was confirmed a few months later, when the condemnation sign went back up on the building.
The building was first condemned in April 2012, and one of the reasons listed for the condemnation was that the structure was unfit for occupancy.
One of the citations the city issued in March was for failure to address a violation citing that the structure was unfit for human occupancy.
After the hearing, Bond sent a question to the city asking about the status of the condemnation because the condemnation sticker was no longer on the building. He never heard back from the city.
Asked last week what happened, Bamonti said the sign fell off, and there was confusion on city staff’s part on when a building could be uncondemned.
After discussing the issue, Bamonti said, the city put the condemnation sign back on the building.
The new sign, dated Dec. 12, states the same reason for the building’s condemnation, that the structure is unfit for occupancy.
Waxter said on that issue, it is not typical to write a citation for a building that has been condemned.
“That citation was thusly dismissed,” he wrote.
Bond said many other violations had not been addressed at the time of the hearing.
The co-owner of the building, Duk Hee Ro, acknowledges there is more work to be done on the building.
Ro said she is having issues with her contractors, one of which she has filed a claim against in court.
The contractors won’t complete the work, even though they have been overpaid, she said.
The floors need work, and electrical and plumbing problems still need to be addressed, Ro said.
Alderman Josh Bokee said he will not be satisfied until the building is leased out.
“The city needs to ensure that it has its foot on the gas and doesn’t let up,” he said.
Fines fall flat
Declaring in court that the required repairs were completed when they weren’t is not code enforcement and does not give the city any more leverage against the building owners, Bond said.
Residents were hopeful that there was going to be movement when there were fines, LaGarde said.
“And we went to court, and then all the sudden, that kind of fell flat,” she said. “I had a lot of people asking why.”
It seems like the city is not following its process, and residents want the city to stick with the process, she said.
“What I’m hearing is they want to be a kinder, gentler city,” she said. “I think people who have put up with it for 15 years or more are fed up with a kinder, gentler city.”
Waxter said there is no intent on the city’s behalf to let the property slip backward.
Bamonti said she thinks the city is seeing progress.
“It’s not like we’re hitting a wall,” she said.