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Council approves condemnation

Alma City Council members approved a house condemnation for the first time in about 20 years, according to city officials.

Council members unanimously approved a measure to go forward with the condemnation of a burned house on a property owned by Shannon Gregory, located at 1273 Lakeview Drive, during their monthly meeting Thursday night.

At the June meeting, on Gregory’s behalf his attorney Joseph Self made an agreement with Alma City Attorney Chuck Baker to have a structural engineer check if the house is structurally sound if the city would allow him to do some construction on it.

Baker told council members he had not heard from Self since that meeting. Neither Self nor Gregory were not at the meeting Thursday night.

Alderman Doug Wilson was in favor of having the engineer check the property before any construction was done, not after he said. Others agreed.

“It seems there’s been a lot of time that has gone by and a lot of things that haven’t gotten done,” said Alderman Maria Washburn.

Baker called before-or-after construction the “sticking point” between the two parties.

City officials have tried to work with Gregory for about a year to get the property cleaned up to no avail, said Alderman Eddie Wakefield.

Baker warned council members that Self told him if they passed the resolution, he would file an injunction on Gregory’s behalf to have the process stopped. Court proceedings to determine if the structure is truly a safety hazard could last at least another year, Baker said.

Wakefield wanted to move forward with the condemnation “even if it takes another year to do it right,” he said.

Baker said that Mayor John Ballentine, who has been in office 20 years, told Baker that he has never seen the council approve a condemnation. Baker has not seen one for at least the 15 years he has been city attorney, he said.

“It’s not something we did lightly,” he said.

Gregory will be given 30 days from the date he is notified of the resolution to appeal.

If he does not appeal or file and injunction, the city will begin the process of tearing down the burned remnants of the house, Baker said. A lien will be placed on the property to recover the city’s costs, he said.

Also at the July meeting, Alma Police Chief Russell White told council members that landscaping for the newly remodeled police department will begin in the next several weeks. He accepted a bid from Mark Dunaway to do the work, he said.

Council members also approved Universal Field Services to acquire rights of way for the Arkansas 162 highway project for $174,400.

Ballentine noted that there is much more to be done in preparing for the project, including moving utilities, that will cost money and time. He expressed concern that the project may not go ahead if all funding reserved for the project is exhausted.

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