The management and owners of the Sweetbay Apartments, what many longtime residents of East Ridge remember as the Thripence, has 30 days in which to take action to update more than two dozen units or the City will move forward with demands for demolition.
During a hearing before the East Ridge Housing Commission Monday evening, Kenny Custer, the city’s Chief Building Official, told the board that one of the five buildings comprising the apartment complex on Fountain Avenue has been vacant since 2010. On Feb. 4 of that year, Custer said that codes officials gave notice to the owners that the building needed to be repaired or torn down. He said that during a rehab of the facility from 2010 to 2012, permits were applied for and plans were submitted to renovate several of the buildings.
Work was begun at that time, officials said, however it ceased. Custer said that no work has been performed on the dilapidated structure in about two years. A dialogue continued with the owners and management firm and city codes officials in seeking some solution. Custer said that on Dec. 28, 2017 city inspectors did a walk-thru of the building and ordered the owners to either begin fixing it or demolish it.
Russell Smith, a representative of Lexington Asset Management, told the housing commission that he did not disagree with city officials’ assessment of the buildings. Smith said that the original renovation of the buildings “stalled out” when his company, which owns five apartment complexes in East Ridge, was confronted with litigation from contractors working on the project. He explained his company had issues in finding financing for the project in recent years.
Smith said he is confident that he can now obtain financing and move forward with renovations.
East Ridge Housing Commission Chairman Eddie Phillips said that he visited the complex and discovered an unsecured door to the empty building, which he termed a “safety issue.” He noted that two of the five buildings at the Sweetbay are rented and currently occupied.
Phillips asked if the building that is vacant was structurally sound? Custer said he would defer that question to a report from a structural engineer which Smith said he would hire.
Commission member Buddy Broome asked how long it might take for an engineering report on the structure to be completed.
Smith said that there are “tons of moving part” in this project, including asbestos abatement. He said he was reluctant to give an exact timetable but was amenable to having benchmarks placed on the project by city officials that would demonstrate progress on making the building once again habitable.
“This needs to be on the front burner,” Phillips told Smith. “This needs to be torn down or fixed.”
Phillips directed Smith to confer with Custer and work out a time frame for moving forward.
“We want to see progress,” Phillips said. “If not, we may enforce the demolition order.”
The housing commission voted to allow Lexington Asset Management 30 to 45 days to get an engineering report, and if deemed structurally sound, to have building plans submitted for review in 90 days.