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October 18, 2013

An empty-house odyssey on Marigold

Resident blasts city as frustration grows over empty home and exhaustive process

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

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Warren Public Service Director Richard Sabaugh said a “series of events” kept the city from demolishing a fire-damaged home on Marigold, south of 10 Mile Road and west of Hoover. The home sat empty for more than two years but is now undergoing renovations.

WARREN — In a city with “blight sweeps,” a process for tearing down rickety structures and a list of codes and ordinances that must be met by property owners, how does a fire-damaged property survive for more than two years?

Here’s the CliffsNotes version.

A guy walks away from a home a few years ago, and another guy moves in. The property falls into disrepair, gets damaged by fire and is left empty. The house then sits vacant for more than two years while it’s tagged by the city for possible demolition, sold as a part of a bundle at a county tax auction and eventually sold again to a builder looking to rehab it. The builder pulls permits in March to work on the house, opening a six-month window to seek city inspections.

Nearly all of those steps meant delays in either tearing it down or shoring it up.

And all the while, the house on Marigold, south of 10 Mile and west of Hoover, sat there looking empty and run down — anything but pretty.

Warren City Council members Kelly Colegio and Robert Boccomino visited the property in September. Mayor Jim Fouts went out there with Public Service Director Richard Sabaugh on Oct. 14. 

Later that night, resident Susan Dodge, who has lived next door to the home for 18 years, teed off on officials gathered for a City Council study session.

“Why did I have to go to the mayor today?” said Dodge, demanding to know why action wasn’t taken sooner to clean up the fire-damaged garage, debris-littered yard and boarded-up house next door.

She later said she’s tried to work with the new owner, John Oakley, who said last week that he bought the house from the bulk purchaser, Macomb County Properties LLC, in January 2013 for $7,800. She said she even offered to let him use her power.

But Oakley, who claimed he’s now actively trying to remodel the house, said someone broke into the place overnight and took $2,000 worth of tools sometime after the meeting on Oct. 14.

“Could it have been done faster? Absolutely. They called me like a month ago. Now, we’re over here working on it,” Oakley said, not long after he met police at the house to report the stolen tools. Of the theft, he said, “It ain’t doing nothing but setting us back.”

And that’s more bad news for Dodge.

Colegio said she sought clarity about the city’s nuisance abatement procedure — the process for tearing down dilapidated structures — in September after a discussion by the Warren City Council and after she, along with Boccomino, met Dodge at the house on Marigold.

“Totally unacceptable. We were both truly shocked at the bad state that the property was in over there,” Colegio said. “It appeared there had been several postings placed on the door. Some looked older. That kind of sparked my interest into, once a house is slated as condemned, who has the right to take it out?”

Sabaugh said it takes between six and nine months to legally tear down a house in Warren. The process is guided — and sometimes slowed — by the city’s ordinances.

He said the house and garage were originally tagged as “unsafe” on Oct. 5, 2011, not long after the fire. A fire can delay the demolition process for up to six months for investigative purposes.

Sabaugh said the property was eventually scheduled for a nuisance abatement hearing on Aug. 23, 2012. A few weeks before that, though, the tax-delinquent house was snatched up in a bulk purchase at the county auction. That put demolition on hold again after the City Council later moved to suspend abatement proceedings on parcels bought by Macomb Properties.

When Oakley bought the home in January, the clock reset again.  Sabaugh said Oakley applied for city certification inspection in March and that he had six months to seek necessary permits through the Building Department.  Permits for fire repair, electrical and mechanical work were obtained in September.

“It was just a series of events that stopped us from tearing it down,” Sabaugh said. “It was a series of events not caused by anything we did or didn’t do.

“The mayor and I went out there and talked to her (Dodge). She’s upset, and she should have been,” Sabaugh said. “She’s been living with that for two years. That’s not right. But the process and the ordinance has to be followed, otherwise we would be in for legal problems.”

Colegio said the property should have at least been cleaned as the process played out, and that Dodge and her neighbors shouldn’t have had to live next door to a mess for two years.

It now appears as if Dodge and her neighbors will get some relief from what has been an eyesore for far too long.

“The end outcome, you hope, the more eyes that are on it, it will just be harder for things to fall through the cracks,” Colegio said.

Oakley said he understands his neighbor’s concerns and now just wants to finish the work on the house.

“There’s not much else to say. We’re working on it and fixing it,” Oakley said.

Dodge said she’s been willing to work with Oakley but that she’s disgusted by the city’s lack of action until now.

Before Oakley bought the house next door, she said a representative of Macomb Properties offered to sell her the place for $5,000.

“They tried to pawn it off on me,” Dodge told officials at the meeting Oct. 14. “I don’t want no more property in Warren.”