Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
Franklin’s minimum housing code took center stage during the February meeting of the Franklin Town Council last week.
Town leaders voted to withdraw a lawsuit against one property owner and begin the process to file a suit against another — all in regards to the town’s minimum housing code.
The Minimum Housing Code establishes basic requirements for homes located within the city limits. The ordinance is set to ensure the safety of residents as well as offer protections for neighbors.
The Town of Franklin’s Minimum Housing Ordinance specifically states, “The roofs, flashings, exterior walls, basement walls, floors and all doors and windows exposed to the weather shall be constructed and maintained so as to be weathertight and watertight” all of which were specific complaints filed against the owner of the property located at 373 West Main Street, at the beginning of Bidwell Street.
Concerns were first raised by neighbors in 2017 and a petition was started to draw the town’s attention to the property. A civil lawsuit was filed against the property owner and as part of the process, the property owner, Max Houston, was given a grace period to get the property up to compliance before further action was taken, and Houston did just that.
Town Attorney John Henning Jr. informed board members last week that the lawsuit was dismissed based on Houston’s cooperation.
“The property owner followed up and did what was necessary to bring the dwelling into minimum compliance with the code. It is not a viable lawsuit anymore as the owner has done enough to the house to pass the Minimum Housing Ordinance,” said Henning.
Now that the property owner has completed the work necessary to meet the Minimum Housing Ordinance requirements, there are no grounds for a lawsuit… at least for now.
The vacant house attracted rodents, and also attracted vagrants who would stay inside the house and on the porches. The owner has now sealed up the roof, windows and all openings with plywood.
“The minimum housing code is not going anywhere; we will be able to reinstate a lawsuit again if the conditions of the dwelling don’t meet the ordinance requirements,” said Henning. “Untreated plywood isn’t going to last forever, and we may end up in the same place in a couple of years, and we can restart the process. If it gets down to the point where it is dilapidated, then it may have to come down.”
While the Bidwell house was cleaned up enough to meet the ordinance, a lawsuit against another property located across off Palmer Street was set into motion. The town received several complaints regarding the property located at 18 Wilkie Street last year and initially worked with the property owner to begin cleaning up the property.
“At first the owner worked with us and did clean up a lot of the garbage on the property and removed several of the junk cars, but clean up stopped in November and we haven’t had any communication with the property owner since that time,” said Town Planner Justin Setser.
The home is vacant and has been since last fall and the property owners have given the town little to no indication that they desire to move forward with the clean up process. Setser said the home is completely dilapidated and has a value of less than $1,000.
If the town receives a complaint from five or more citizens, the town can hold a hearing and allow the owners of the dwellings the opportunity to update the property and meet the town’s code or to demolish the property. The Wilkie Street property will now have a public hearing set and will begin the process to see if it will face demolition.
Town purchases land parcels
The old Texaco property at the corner of Maple Street and West Palmer Street in front of the Franklin Fire and Police Departments officially has a new owner as the town of Franklin voted recently to purchase the property for $180,000.
Town Manager Summer Woodard informed the board last week that after negotiations, the town was poised to close on the .67 acres located at 196 West Palmer Street for $180,000, which will come out of the town’s fund balance. Woodard noted that the property, which has little use for any other owner, will be useful for the town for sidewalk and water/sewer line projects as well as to enhance the properties surrounding the parcel, which are the Franklin Fire Department and the Franklin Police Department.
Council member Joe Collins said that he understands it is important for the town to purchase the property for the police and fire departments, but was not pleased with the price.
“I am having a hard time thinking the property is worth the price that we are offering to pay for it,” said Collins. “It is a piece of land that the town uniquely needs for its police and fire departments. I would have a harder time if someone came in and bought it for the same or lesser price. With enough years, I think the sting of paying a few dollars more than I think we should, will go away and for that reason I will be in favor of the purchase.”
While Collins and four other board members voted to purchase the property, Council member David Culpepper voted against the measure, saying that the price was too high for what the property was.
Woodard assured board members that due diligence was completed and any environmental concerns surrounding the underground tanks were solved and the property was deemed safe.
In addition to the old gas station property, the town also voted to purchase .43 acres more or less located at 311 Clyde Street from Jerry Porter, LLC.
The seller sold the property to the town for the tax value at $26,000. The Clyde Street property adjoins the east Franklin water tower and will allow the town to expand the water capacity for that area.