Knoxville — The City of Knoxville will likely accept the title to 110 East Robinson, the building severely damaged in an arson fire on March 25.
City Manager Harold Stewart believes this is the best course of action for the community, pending a check of the abstract to ensure that Susan Vincent Lewis, current owner of the building, has a clear title. The City is already in possession of the abstract, and City Attorney Bob Stuyvesant is expected to begin working with the abstract company Friday morning. If the title is clear, action to accept ownership of the property may take place at the May 20 regular Knoxville City Council meeting.
Lewis addressed the council Thursday night during a public hearing. The hearing began Monday night, but remained open until tonight's special meeting to provide Lewis ample opportunity to present her case. She had requested the hearing.
"I am as devastated as anyone in this whole situation," Lewis told the council. She had hired a young man, whose assistant, Nicholas Wade Carter, allegedly set fire to the building. The two were cleaning out personal belongings from the building to prepare it for auction.
"I had a lot of things left in there," Lewis said. She added that many of these were family heirlooms and photos that could not be replaced.
"I feel so bad about what happened," Lewis said. She specifically named neighboring building owners Jean Peterson and Kathy Caviness. Caviness, owner of Sundance Realty, was present at Thursday's meeting, but did not speak.
"I'm a victim here, too," Lewis said.
Lewis also accused the City and the Knoxville Fire Department for lacking communication with her. She said she was unaware that she would have been able to get into the building, to retrieve what was left of her belongings, five days after the fire.
City staff indicated that when she was sent notice to have the building demolished within 14 days should have served as acknowledgement of her ability to get into the building.
"That should have served as notice that you had access," Stewart said.
Fire Chief Nick Bonstell intends to accompany Lewis when she reenters the building, but only as a safety precaution. The building, which was condemned before the fire, is still unsafe.
Lewis has received estimates for demolition of the building. This could cost at least $60,000, if the building does not have asbestos. If asbestos is found, the cost will increase.
Assistant City Manager Dylan Feik has already begun work on specifications for demolition. He asked Lewis if it was possible to have the building cleared next week. In the event the City accepts ownership, this will expedite the demolition process.
"The building needs prepared for demolition," Feik said.
"I'd sure like to see it done by the middle of June," Mayor Don Zoutte said. Stewart said mid-July is more realistic goal.