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City condemns, could bulldoze historic house needing repairs

By Chris Paschenko
chris@decaturdaily.com 340-2442

In 1908, Henry Ford introduced the Model T, Robert Peary set out for the north pole, the first New Year's ball dropped at Times Square and a Decatur house was built at 518 Vine St. N.E.

The house, after years of neglect, fell into disrepair and likely will be another memory soon, just a year shy of its 100th birthday.

The city condemned the historic, two-story home and notified its owners. But William Austin, who holds title, and Charles Bumpus, who has paid the taxes, made no attempt to rectify a long list of problems.

Declared unfit

The walls, roof and porch are damaged. Ivy is growing into the missing second-story windows. The house has unsafe equipment, an unsafe electrical system and is unfit for human occupancy, the city said.

Melinda Dunn, the city's liaison to the Historic Preservation Commission, said the home was built in 1908 and is a historical contributing structure, meaning any repairs would require commission approval.

Dan Price, a member of the commission, said neither the commission nor the city has funds to revitalize the home or keep the property from becoming a vacant lot.

"I'm not sure it has a clear title, and it has gone without a proper roof for some time," Price said. "Should a reporter snooping around it or someone use the place to get out of the cold or rain gain access and fall through a floor and get injured, then who is liable? The city is taking action."

David Lee, an inspector with the city's community development department, said the city's only contact with the owners has been through the mail.

"The city can't fix it because we don't own it," Lee said. "The only resolution we have left available to us is to demolish it and eliminate the public nuisance."

Harold Wilson, who has lived near the home on Vine Street for 20 years, said it was presentable until the owner died. He said someone should have maintained it.

"Someone painted the house and shutters several years ago, and it looked nice then," Wilson said. "Houses deteriorate faster when no one lives there. When Mr. Ward died, his wife moved to Courtland."

Michelle Jordan, director of Community Development, briefed the City Council on the issue during its agenda work session Monday night. She said Austin lives in Georgia and hasn't brought the house into compliance.

The council didn't discuss the issue and will host a public hearing Feb. 5 on the matter. It could then vote to abate the historic home with a bulldozer.

Price said the commission could have delayed the demolition for 180 days but declined over liability and other issues.

"We sat frustrated with our hands tied, trying to save a piece of property that could have been viable, might still be viable," Price said. "Basically we voted to do nothing with great regret. I'm afraid we'll have another green lot."

The home is visible to thousands of daily commuters on Sixth Avenue Northeast, which is also U.S. 31.

"It's a visual glimpse into the historic neighborhood," Price said. "It's not an insignificant property for the city, but a derelict house with a crumbling roof before our eyes is not exactly something we want to present to the city either."

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