When Crothersville Town Council President Danieta Foster asked Hubert Ashley Jr. how much it would take for the town to acquire two buildings he owns in the 100 block of South Armstrong Street, that was the amount he gave her.
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After a discussion that lasted more than an hour Tuesday night at the town hall, the council voted 4-1 to buy the buildings for $1 and hire a contractor to have them torn down pending town attorney Jeff Lorenzo’s review of the property deeds and receipt of a contract. Councilman Lenvel “Butch” Robinson cast the lone nay vote.
“If it’s to beautify something or make a small parking lot, if it has to sit until next year or something, at least it’s ours and we do what we want,” Councilman Bob Lyttle said after making the motion. “Maybe we can get a beautification grant or something and then go on from there.”
Councilman Chad Wilson made a motion to hire Albertson Excavating of Scottsburg to demolish the buildings pending Lorenzo’s review of the contract. That also passed 4-1 with Robinson voting no.
The only unanimous vote came on Wilson’s motion to allow Foster and Clerk-Treasurer Terry Richey to sign the contract after Lorenzo reviews it.
The special meeting was called after more damage recently occurred on the buildings, forcing the town to place barricades along the sidewalk along Armstrong Street or U.S. 31.
“I don’t want to hurt you, but I’m afraid that building is not going to stay up,” Foster said to Ashley, who has operated a foundry in an adjoining building for more than 27 years. “Something has to be done very soon.”
After Ashley offered to sell the buildings for $1, Robinson asked what the town would do with them.
“Even if they have to sit empty until we can do something else with them, I would rather own them if we’re going to go over and tear them down,” Foster said.
“If we’re going to take ownership of them, we better have somebody in line to tear them down, in my opinion, because the town doesn’t need to be standing with a liability like that for even a day,” Robinson said.
“I think whether it’s in our hands or not, if it comes down, we’re going to be liable because we’ve known for too long,” Foster said.
Lorenzo said the town could be liable if the buildings were to fall on the sidewalk or alley and injure someone.
“If it falls on a public way maintained by the town and we have sat here tonight and failed to take action, then I think we have risk,” he said. “Somebody’s got to be injured, obviously. You’ve got to take all deliberate action, which you’re afforded to do — barricades, whatever you’ve done — to make certain the public is protected.”
Lorenzo then gave the town council three options: Declare an emergency, accept the selling offer, clean up the property, assess the cost against Ashley and obtain a judge’s order against Ashley for failing to clean up the property; take ownership and immediately clean it up; or not do anything.
“Doing nothing is always a choice, but it’s not a very good one,” Lorenzo said.
“Barricades and stuff are not enough,” Lyttle said. “We know we have a problem, so we tried to keep people from away from it, but we can’t stop people from running up and down there.”
Lindsey Hopkins with Complete Reconstruction of Austin said he estimated the cost to tear down the buildings, do cleanup and dispose of everything to be in the mid-$30,000s.
He suggested the town contact the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to make that agency aware of its plans. He and Kelley Albertson both said they felt IDEM will cooperate since the buildings are unsafe.
“They will want it down and out. They will want it gone. They are going to work with you guys,” Albertson said.
“They are on board for making places safe,” Hopkins said. “They are going to cooperate in every facet.”
Hopkins also requested asking the Indiana Department of Transportation to shut down U.S. 31 during the knockdown process.
Then he said he wants something in writing signed by Ashley stating Hopkins won’t be responsible for damages to the Ashley Foundry buildings.
“Those buildings are connected. Let’s be open and honest, if there is some type of damage, we would not want to be held liable,” Hopkins said. “Obviously, we’re not just going to go in and be reckless. We’re obviously going to take all of the care we can.”
The town also will have to call to have gas lines capped, move a propane tank that’s on the back side of the property and have a survey done to determine property lines. Then Albertson will be ready to create the contract and get it signed to start demolition.
Lyttle asked Richey what fund the money would come out of to cover the cost of demolition. The town can’t pursue blight clearance program money from the state because it only applies to homes, and no tax increment financing funds are available since the redevelopment commission wasn’t established until late 2016.
Hopkins suggested contacting local industries to inquire about making a donation to the town.
“Maybe you’d be surprised what type of good neighbors you have,” he said. “Maybe we get somebody to do some contribution that way in exchange for some parking. Maybe we put them a plaque up. A lot of people love to see their name on a plaque, let’s just be honest about it. It’s their tax dollars hard at work, and they get a little recognition publicly.”