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Court orders city to act on blighted property

115 Gilman Ave. in immediate danger of collapse

Harmar Elementary School sits in the shadow of 115 Gilman Ave., in Marietta, which was declared a blight and public nuisance in Washington County Common Pleas Court on Monday. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

Two declarations and one order now place the duty to act upon city government, following a default hearing in Washington County Common Pleas Court on Monday.

But what’s still to be determined is a timeline to abate the blight and public nuisance declared at 115 and 117 Gilman Ave., Marietta.

The topic before the court concerned the residential structures, properties that have netted more than 50 public nuisance complaints since 2012, before the last owner died on the property in 2014, leaving the structures to rot, floors to collapse, and creating, according to Law Director Paul Bertram, an “attractive nuisance” which has continually put neighboring children and those walking to and from Harmar Elementary School for the last nine years in harm’s way.

“I found that there was sufficient evidence to indicate that in its current condition, the structure is in immediate danger of collapse,” testified Professional Engineer Eric Lambert, a city project engineer and expert witness, under questioning of City Law Director Paul Bertram and Washington County Common Pleas Judge John Halliday.

Following testimony from Lambert, Code Enforcement Official Wayne Rinehart, and Fourth Ward Councilman Geoff Schenkel, the judge declared that the properties are both a blight, and a public nuisance, as defined by Ohio Revised Code.

Fourth Ward Councilman Geoff Schenkel testifies to the fear residents within his ward live under due to the “neglect” at 115 and 117 Gilman Ave., in Marietta, during a hearing in Washington County Common Pleas Court on Monday. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

According to Section 3767.41 (2)(a), “Public nuisance” means a building that is a menace to the public health, welfare, or safety; that is structurally unsafe, unsanitary, or not provided with adequate safe egress; that constitutes a fire hazard, is otherwise dangerous to human life, or is otherwise no longer fit and habitable; or that, in relation to its existing use, constitutes a hazard to the public health, welfare, or safety by reason of inadequate maintenance, dilapidation, obsolescence, or abandonment.

Schenkel testified as a representative of the collection of residents living within the lower west side who have lived in fear of the structures’ danger both of collapse and from the inadequate securing of the buildings over the last several years which allowed for continued harborage of illicit drug activity in the open cavity of the basement of 115 Gilman and in the 117 Gilman structure, as reported with interior photos and fresh liquor bottles documented in the Times in August of 2019.

“They don’t want to live next door to filth, a fear of collapse, exploding brick from fire,” testified Schenkel. “People living close by are afraid to live in their own bedroom, afraid to sleep at night on that end of the trailer because of the conditions of that building … Eric described to us last week, that a flick of a cigarette would set that place ablaze.”

While attorney Jonathan Dehmlow, of Fields, Dehmlow and Vessels, entered a motion to intervene two minutes after the scheduled hearing was set to begin, the motion on behalf of Jon and Peggy Grimm was ultimately rescinded by the attorney after the judge recessed the hearing to discuss with counselors state law and legal definitions of interested parties.

Bertram noted following the hearing that no interest in converting the property into a bed and breakfast would hold water before a loaning entity to engage enough equity to secure both a construction plan and financial proof of return on investment into the structure.

Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge John Halliday notes the affidavits of neighbors living in fear of the immediate danger of 115 and 117 Gilman Ave., in Marietta, during a hearing Monday. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

While the hearing did not clear the title from the possession of the deceased owner, Donald Scott Rose, it did provide the city with the obligation to remove the blight and nuisance by abatement.

According to Ohio Revised Code, boarding up the structure does not qualify as abatement, and, Bertram concurred Monday following the hearing, neither does erecting a fence around the structure or property as a whole like what is erected around the vacant hole at the corner of Putnam, Seventh and Glendale in Marietta.

* What next

Bertram, Schenkel, Lambert and Rinehart are next scheduled to meet Thursday to determine a request for bids for demolition for the two structures and determine a timeline for the conclusion of abatement.

Bertram and Schenkel explained that while abatement could include the renovation of the contributing historic structure at 115 Gilman Ave. by the appointment of a receiver with no equitable ownership in the property, time is of the essence.

From left, Marietta Law Director Paul Bertram, Professional Engineer Eric Lambert, and Fourth Ward Councilman Geoff Schenkel await judgment during a hearing against 115 and 117 Gilman Ave., Monday in Washington County Common Pleas Court. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

“The city of Marietta is not going to put half a million dollars in it,” said Bertram.

“I’m not going to advocate that we attempt that to my peers on council,” Schenkel added. “If we have the resources to entertain that kind of undertaking, then we should have been able to go over there with engineering and find that this thing was ready to collapse two years ago. If we didn’t have the time to go over there and do the inspection, then we don’t have the resources to take it on as a project.”

If the city fails to abate, then the court can find against the city for contempt of court, Bertram confirmed.

***

Review the history of these structures and city officials’ discussion concerning their abatement and the threat of blight to the city’s public peace, health and safety in the Jan. 6., Jan. 13, Feb. 26, March 2, March 23, March 26, March 30, 2021 editions of the Times, and in the 2020 issues published on Jan. 8, Jan. 14, Feb. 4, Feb. 7, July 25, July 30, Aug. 7, Aug. 14, Aug. 18, Sept. 5, Sept. 10, Sept. 15, Sept. 23, Oct. 2 and Nov. 11; and in the 2019 issues published on Feb. 15, May 2, Aug. 23, Sept. 5, Oct. 9, Oct 29, and Nov. 2; and in the May 2, Aug. 17 and Aug. 29 issues in 2018; the March 24, 2017 issue and the July 18, 2015 issue.

Wayne Rinehart, a city code enforcement official, reviews notes while questioned under oath in Washington County Common Pleas Court on Monday. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

***

What’s Next:

1. City Law Director Paul Bertram to journalize Washington County Common Pleas entry classifying both 115 and 117 Gilman Ave., as a blight and public nuisance and the court’s order to the city to abate both violations of state and city laws.

2. Bertram, Professional Engineer Eric Lambert, Councilman Geoff Schenkel and Code Enforcement Official Wayne Rinehart to outline abatement action and timeline.

Marietta Law Director Paul Bertram outlines the city case for a declaration of blight and public nuisance against 115 and 117 Gilman Ave., Marietta, during a default hearing in Washington County Common Pleas Court on Monday. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

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