The Sad Saga of 439 East First Street

March 28, 2016 39 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Preservations Save Our Springfield (SOS) shares their side of the story that led to the unfortunate demise of 439 East 1st Street.

439 East 1st Street in 1985.

Hmmm. The vote was only for one condition, but two conditions are on the Final Order, which was signed by Both the Chairman of the HPC, Barry B Underwood, and the Office of General Council representative to the HPC, Sondra R. Fetner. Wondering if there was any way that could be proper, I called the Office of General Council and asked this question: “If the HPC passes a motion to approve a COA with condition A and condition B, can the final order have conditions A, B and C?” An assistant answered but upon hearing the question, connected me with someone qualified to answer it. The response to the question was “no, the final order must match the passed motion.” To be doubly sure, someone else e-mailed the same basic question to the OGC but we have yet to receive a response from that e-mail request.

Underhanded? Illegal? Sounds like it. This “added condition” is what gave MCCD the permission to go ahead and take the entire house. Besides being unethical, this action also cost us taxpayers between an additional $10,000.00 to $26,000.00 over the approved taking of the enclosed rear porch and stabilizing the main house. Yes, a complete demo was far more expensive than saving the house. And that does not take in consideration that now we have a contaminated empty lot that will not generate any substantial tax revenue for many years if not decades to come.

It's important to now review the financial information presented by MCCSD itself. At both HPC meetings during which this demolition was discussed and denied, Municipal Code Compliance put into the public record proposals obtained from three different demolition/ general contractors. They were Hager Construction, CORE Construction and Bukhalters Wrecking.

Hager and CORE both only bid the complete demolition of the structure. Their proposals were $ 27,300.00 and $ 37,286.00 respectively. Bukhalters bid all three options. First was the rehabbing of the house at $ 126,500.00, then the partial demolition of the Rear enclosed porch only at $ 24, 295.00 and the total demolition at $ 39,140.00.

Since the HPC only approved the removal of the rear porch, which was bid by Bulhalters, one would expect then that Municipal Code Compliance would award the partial demolition as approved to Bukhalters. Rather than that common sense action, MCCD showed up at the site with Michael Lloyd's Hauling, which in the past has gotten a large percentage of demo contracts, including many emergencies. The contractor showed up with only a large dump truck and an excavator. Representatives from Preservation SOS never saw any indication of having materials on hand to stabilize and secure the main house after the removal enclosed rear porch.

Preservation SOS has also discovered that the permit was pulled as an emergency a week after the demolition and had a cost of $50,000.00 listed.

These facts seem to support the idea that MCCD never had any intentions of doing anything but demolishing the entire house and giving a fat contract to their favorite demo contractor.

A second development is that during a meeting called by the current chair of the Urban Core CPAC, Alison Good, to address the demolition issue and begin talking about solutions, Ms Sondra Fitner, Office of General Council's representative to the Historic Preservation Commission and signer of the incorrect final order, stated for the record that it was fine to add that extra condition as it is in the ordinance code that MCCD has the authority to take a structure as an emergency; she was simply reaffirming that fact.

Like so many other things this City has seemed to do and say involving this demolition, it almost sounds reasonable. But in looking at this and other Final Orders, it is not unusual to have an ordinance or two referenced when they are pertinent to the conditions of the final order. In fact, it is in the final order as a fact and finding that MCCD can indeed take anything they determine to be an immediate threat as an emergency. Are we now learning that the various ordinance codes that give power to the HPC and instruct us all to protect our historic structures are meaningless? I hope not. Can I now build that concrete block house in the middle of Springfield simply because it says I can elsewhere in the code regardless of what the HPC says? Of course not, or at least that is how it applies to you and me. The City? Not so much. You see there was no reason to change the decision of the HPC to include that second condition unless you wanted to help insure they could take the house and still meet the conditions of the COA. Unless you were a party to the ultimate goal of taking the entire house without thought of following the HPC's lawful decision.

So in summary, here is what we know:

• The Final Order was changed to insure that MCCD could ignore the lawful decision of the HPC and still be able to publicly state they were in the bounds of the Final Order.

• The MCCD personnel and leadership always intended to ignore the lawful decision of the HPC as shown by their actions and who they hired.

• The MCCD hired a demolition contractor who charged much more than the lawful quotes that they had already gotten, including the one that was much less to take the entire house.

What happens now? Hard to say. What we would like to have happen is that the leadership of MCCD be brought to task and held accountable for the wasteful and possibly illegal demolition. The HPC needs to be shaken up a bit in that Barry Underwood, current Chairman, perhaps needs to be removed so we can have a HPC member who puts value on what his peers vote upon. That leaves the lawyer, Ms. Fitner. I think the HPC also deserves a lawyer who will actually worry about the preservation of houses and not help MCCD demolish them.

We can use this case to see just how far some employees of this City are willing to go to insure their wishes are granted over the wishes of the residents of Jacksonville. Makes one wonder if they are willing to do this to tear down an old house, what is happening with the millions of Federal Funds coming in. How much better of a Jacksonville could we have if things were actually done properly.

Article by Preservation SOS

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