November 7, 2013

City drops dilapidated property lawsuit

Accepts rental proposal from London Radio Service

By Rob McDaniel
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — By Rob McDaniel

Staff writer

After hearing from a local homeowner, the London City Council voted to drop a lawsuit against him concerning a dilapidated property on 4th Street.

Property owner Doug Benge, who has recently been involved in litigation with the city due to a rundown, single family dwelling, came before the council Monday with a request to drop the suit against him or instruct him what he would need to do to be compliant with planning and zoning standards.

Benge was brought into litigation after a concerned neighbor issued complaints to the city council earlier this year demanding something be done about the dilapidated dwelling. Benge was delivered a certified letter stating what would need to be done to make his property compliant with safety and zoning standards. However, Benge states he already address the concerns of the council last spring, stating the building was only to be used for storage.

“When I was last before this committee, I think it was last spring, I made it perfectly clear I have no intention of having anyone live in it and I’ll spend whatever I can to make it compliant.” Benge said.  “I was led to believe because no one will be living in the property and it will most likely be used as storage, I was in the clear.  I left that meeting feeling I was compliant and now I get this letter saying the city is going to eminent domain me and condemn the property.”

Benge told the city council he has always complied with their requests and would continue to do so if they would communicate with him.

“Our main concern was the huge cracks you can see light through in the foundation,” said councilman Judd Weaver.

Several other council members shared Weaver’s concerns of the structural integrity including Bobby Joe Parman, Danny Phelps and Nancy Vaughn.

“I have contacted who I consider to be a larger reputable builder in town and I told them to go fix the structure,” Benge said.  “I told them I don’t care what it is, just fix it.  Not one but two structural engineers inspected the property and said the building isn’t going to fall on anyone.  As long as I am not going to use it as commercial or residential property, I am compliant and respectfully request the suit against me be dropped.”

“I feel Mr. Benge has complied with the requirements, as long as nobody is going to live in it and he isn’t going to use the property commercially; he’s got nothing left to do,” Parman said after hearing Benge’s presentation.

“The sticking point is that it’s not for human habitation,” said councilman Jim Hays.  “If it’s going to be used as a storage building, let's find out if he is compliant and put this issue to an end.”

According to Doug Garrett of the city planning and zoning department, requirements for a storage facility are electricity and a secure entry and exit point for the building.

After finding that the property owned by Benge is compliant as a storage building or non-habitable property and hearing his guarantees to keep the property safe, the council voted to drop the lawsuit against Benge.

During their October meeting, the London City Council voted to take proposals for the rental of a cellular/radio tower in response to an investigative report that questioned the ethics of a business relationship between the city and London Radio Service, which is owned by Police Chief Stewart Walker

After a month of accepting proposals, the council voted to award the contract to London Radio Service, the one and only proposal submitted.

“We asked for proposals on cell tower rentals. We did get one proposal from London Radio Service. The proposal was everything we have been getting at the price we had been getting it for in the past,” Rudder said.

Attorney Larry Bryson stated a proposal was different from a bid, however "it contains all of the information you would want with a bid.”

Bryson suggested the council look at the contract again in three years to be compliant with state auditor practices.

“Because this involves a city employee, it’s important the city employee’s interest be made public and it is. Stewart Walker is the owner of London Radio Service and is the chief of police,” Bryson said.

Bryson felt the contract is in the best interest of the public and city.

“The proposal is within the price that we have been paying and it the best service available,” Mayor Troy Rudder said.  “I suggest the council accept the proposal to use the London Radio Service towers.”

After voting, the council accepted the proposal to continue the business relationship with London Radio Service, contracting tower rentals at $105 per month for police services, $160 per month for the main dispatch line for fire and emergency services and $140 per month for interagency radio communications.

Additionally Rudder made several appointments for the London Tourism Commission:

• Representing the City of London, Bill Dezarn will serve a three-year term and Sharon Cornelius will serve a two-year term;

• Representing the Chamber of Commerce, Troy House will serve a one-year term;

• Representing hotels in the city, Holly Little will serve a two-year term, Mackie Williams will serve a three-year term, and Jason Handy will serve a one-year term; and

• Representing restaurants in the city, Judy Barnett will serve a one-year term.

Rudder also re-appointed Joe Smith to the London/Laurel County Communications board and appointed P.J. Burnett, captain of the Kentucky State Police London Post to the 9-1-1 board.

The council also approved written requests to rezone the following properties from R2 residential zones to C2 commercial zones:

• Property owned by James R. Johnson, located at 1864 N. Mill St.;

• Property owned by Bertie L. Sawyers, located at 1869 and 1871 N. Mill St.;

• Property owned by James C. Johnson and Sarah C. Johnson at 1868 N. Mill St.; and

• Property owned by James R. Parsley and Mary Parsley at 1867 N. Mill St.