Owner of historic store appeals town’s demolition plans

ndunn@newsobserver.comMay 5, 2014 

— The owner of a rundown grocery store building is appealing the town’s decision to raze the once popular downtown landmark.

Clayton leaders called for the wrecking ball in February, arguing that owner Katie Smith had had more than two years to bring the historic Red and White building up to code.

But Smith, of Sneads Ferry, is looking for even more time to make repairs. In a petition filed April 3 in Johnston County Superior Court, Smith questioned if town leaders followed proper legal procedures. She wants a judge to review the town’s records and forbid crews from razing the old store.

“She thinks the building can be salvaged,” said Smith’s attorney, Joe Howell. “We are satisfied that we can make this safe.”

Smith didn’t own the building during the time it became unsafe.

She sold the store to Robert and Patricia Bryant in 2006. But Robert Bryant said health issues kept him from maintaining the property or paying the mortgage.

Facing foreclosure, the Bryants deeded the property back to Smith, the lien holder, on Nov. 21, 2012. The transaction occurred days after Clayton building inspectors gave the Bryants 60 days to fix the property or have it torn down.

However, the Clayton Town Council gave Smith a reprieve, hoping an investor could restore or renovate the space. Clayton resident Randy Messick showed interest in the property and applied for a work permit, painted the storefront and lined up engineers from Tyndall Engineering and Design in Garner. But council members wanted proof of a financial backing, and they wanted to see the renovation plans; Messick provided neither.

On Feb. 3, the Town Council voted to raze the building and has solicited demolition bids from contractors. Town Manager Steve Biggs said he expects the work would cost about $30,000.

The town would place a lien on the property to recover the demolition cost. Under North Carolina law, liens must be paid before a property is sold to another party.

“The taxpayers are out the money until the property sells,” Biggs said.

In her filing, Smith specifically claims the town didn’t notify her about a hearing held on April 10, 2012, when the Bryants still owned the building. She said she should have been notified as a “party in interest.”

Biggs said Smith has been well informed about the process. “Ms. Smith is unfortunately in a tough situation, where she wasn’t the owner of the building when it was allowed to deteriorate,” he said. But “we have given an extensive amount of time and opportunity for them to abate the nuisance and condition of the building.”

The building has been vacant since about 2002.

The town condemned the property after inspectors found problems with the roof, the awning over the front door and the heating and air conditioning systems,

Some residents call the building an eyesore, and neighbors have said they are afraid to walk by the old store, fearing it will collapse. The Clayton Downtown Development Association ranked the building the town’s top “challenge” as part of a “Picture Downtown” project in 2012.

Biggs said residents need to remember that the town does not regulate aesthetics. “What we have a legal standing on are matters of public safety,” he said. “We want to abate the nuisance.”

Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104

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