Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

May 3, 2013

Building deemed fire hazard prior to blaze

Public Hearing scheduled for Monday

Steve Woodhouse

Knoxville — Following inspection, the City of Knoxville had deemed 110 East Robinson a nuisance, over one year before the building was set on fire on March 25. 

In a letter dated June 29, 2011, signed by the former Zoning Administrator and Fire Chief, owner Susan Vincent was informed that the building, in its present condition, was "considered to be a dangerous building, public nuisance, detrimental to the value of neighboring properties and a fire hazard." 

Vincent was given 60 days to bring the building into compliance with fire codes or removed. The building had to be vacated immediately. 

Another inspection was performed on Oct. 17, 2012. In a letter dated Nov. 1, 2012, the City informed Vincent that the building was structurally unsafe and not provided with adequate egress. The building remained a fire hazard by reason of "inadequate maintenance, dilapidation, obsolescence or abandonment." 

Concern was expressed in both of these letters about the smell in the building. Mold, deteriorated floor joists and a disallowed electrical feed were among complaints from the City on Nov. 1. The building was ordered to remain empty until the repairs were made. 

As previously reported, Nicholas Wade Carter, 18, has been accused of arson. He allegedly set the building on fire because he "just wanted to be done" with the task of cleaning inside the structure. 

Marion County Attorney Ed Bull said he is waiting on the Fire Marshal's report to file a trial information document. Carter had previously waived his preliminary hearing, pending the filing of the trial information. Bull believes the marshal's report should be received within two weeks. 

On March 26, the day after the fire, the City informed two adjacent property owners, Jean Peterson and Caviness LLC, that the fire "may have compromised the structural integrity of surrounding buildings." 

The letter sent to the adjacent property owners goes on to say, "The City of Knoxville will require third-party verification from a structural engineer that the buildings at 108 East Robinson, 110 East Robinson and 112 East Robinson are structurally sound and safe for occupancy. Appropriate building permits must be obtained before construction, demolition, electrical or other activities are performed as outlined in the Knoxville Municipal Code." 

Since the fire, the City of Knoxville has demanded that something be done with the structure at 110 East Robinson. A letter was received by the City from Gerald Heslinga, an attorney representing Vincent, on April 17. In it, a hearing was requested before the Knoxville City Council. 

"The City is demanding something that cannot be done in a short time or within a short notice," the letter from Heslinga reads. "The owner had no fire insurance, and no financial means to do a hasty demolition. She has attempted, and is attempting to find someone who will demolish it for title to the premises. She will make the same offer to the City." 

The letter also mentions a citation and civil penalty that have been levied against Vincent. Heslinga said these have only caused further delays. 

In a letter dated April 30, the City informed Vincent that a public hearing has been scheduled. That hearing will be at the regular Knoxville City Council meeting on Monday, May 6. The meeting will begin at 6:15 p.m.