The unoccupied historic Centreville Bank Building is falling into the street. Literally. Pieces of the roof structure have rotted away and are falling off, piece by piece onto the sidewalk. Loose red bricks have also fallen onto the sidewalk. A falling piece of debris from this building could do some serious damage to your head if you were walking by at just the right time to meet one on the way down.
To protect the citizenry our fair city has put up the obligatory orange barrels and reflective tape, preventing an unwary pedestrian from entering the danger zone. No warning signs are posted. The owners have done nothing to protect a passerby from falling debris. It also looks like the grass crew is staying safely away because the weeds in the flower beds are prospering in front of the building.
The Bibb County Banking & Trust Building, built in 1899 is on the National Register of Historic Places and within the Centreville Historic Preservation District. The Centreville Historic Preservation Commission is a Certified Local Government formed under the statutory authority of the Code of Alabama, recognized by the Alabama Historical Commission and the National Park Service.
Public records in the office of Angie Langston, the Tax Collector/Assessor of Bibb County, indicate that this building is owned by BCBB Investments, LLC an Alabama Limited Liability Company. The building has a tax appraisal value of $356,700 and a tax rate of $1,109.08 for tax year 2017.
Who is responsible for maintaining this building?
Clearly, the building is privately owned property. A property owner has a obligation to maintain his property which many owners ignore because only the owner suffers the penalty of financial depreciation when he neglects his property.
Lots of owners neglect property, however, there is something about property that is located in a historic district that is different for the owner. He is under a legal obligation in this historic district to suffer no change of appearance to a historic property; i.e., no property may be erected or demolished, or changed, unless it is approved by the Centreville Historic Preservation Commission. Demolition by neglect and the failure to maintain a historic property in a historic district is, by definition, a “change”.
When an owner allows a building to fall into the street what can be done about it?
Cities that have zoning laws have the authority to condemn and repair or demolish properties that become a public nuisance if the owner refuses or fails to do so, Code of Alabama 11-40-30. Once a city has done that work the city has the right to attach a lien to the property and sell the property at a tax sale to collect the lien.
In the case of a property that is located in a historic district, laws vary. In the case of Centreville their Ordinance #2015-1201 allows an owner to be fined $50 to $500 per day for every day that the owner continues to fail to cure the very problem that we have discussed above. Until this owner fixes the problem allowing his building to crumble into the street and onto the sidewalks of Centreville he could be fined up to $500 per day by the City.
Forty Plus Years of Preservation Service and Effort
The designated properties that make up the Centreville Historic District were submitted for consideration to the National Historic Register in December 1977 by a group of dedicated citizens from the Centreville community who undoubtedly worked a number of years to prepare the submission. Many more years of service have gone in to working with the Alabama Historical Commission to form a Certified Local Government, develop Local Design Guidelines and to adopt local Zoning and Historic District Ordinances that will give additional strength to preservation efforts for Centreville’s Historic District preservation.
Those of us who have been around for a while should be thankful for the efforts that have been made to preserve our history. We should not allow the properties on our town square to crumble. We should find useful purposes for these properties and innovative ways to revitalize our community. We have to accept change and the end of the post WWII war economy that built the retail businesses that once thrived here. They are not coming back. Something else will and I want to be here to see it.
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