BY STACIE LETT CAIN
The Statesville City Council on Monday continued to debate what to do with a number vacant lots and dilapidated structures within the city limits.
“What is the city doing to sell these vacant lots that we are now maintaining because we have demolished structures on these lots?” Councilmember David Jones asked Director of Planning and Zoning Sherry Ashley.
“The answer to that is nothing,” Councilman John Staford answered. “And we can’t because we didn’t do the foreclosures and chose to instead do the condemnation and demolition instead and don’t own them.”
That question and answer sparked a substantial debate about properties the city staff has identified as beyond repair. The debate revolved around choosing the condemnation option to more quickly alleviate the problem of dwellings within the city now being inhabited by vagrants and squatters as well as feral cat colonies, snakes and other rodents versus foreclosing the properties and attempting to sell those to contractors willing to either repair or demolish and rebuild on those properties.
In speaking of a particular property located on Stockton Avenue, Councilwoman Amy Lawson said she wanted the structure to simply be gone.
“It just needs to be demolished. It is a quality of life issue for those living near these properties,” she explained. “I get many complaints about this property in that there are people staying there, there are snakes and other rodents as well as feral cats living in this house and coming and going from their properties as well. It just needs to be torn down.”
Staford disagreed, arguing that condemnation and demolition simply put the property in a stagnant state that requires the city to maintain. These properties continue to accrue fees and taxes, and there is no way to recoup those expenses without property ownership to be able to sell.
Although City Attorney Leah Messer said that the foreclosure process in the court system has been significantly delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic, a majority of the council seemed to believe that foreclosure is preferable to condemnation. The council was evenly split in a four to four vote, with Mayor Costi Kutteh breaking the tie in favor of pursuing foreclosure over condemnation on property located at 522 Stockton Street.