A dirt-filled lot blocked off with red tape stands in stark contrast to its neighbors, breaking the row of tightly-spaced houses along Ninth Street.

Less than two weeks ago, a house stood at 1317 Ninth St. — one that Columbus resident Patricia Porter Campbell remembers as her parents’ and grandparents’ home.

But on Feb. 5, a city contractor tore down the house, even though the city has not yet found any record of a demolition order being affirmed for the property.

Flat Rock-based Robertson Paving removed everything down to the foundation — improvements worth $32,300, according to records from the county — in the city’s second round of demolitions through a program to address unsafe buildings in the city limits.

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City attorney Jeff Logston said Thursday the city’s community development department may have asked the Columbus Board of Public Works and Safety to hire the contractor without an affirmed order, a legal requirement in the process the city is using to tear down unsafe properties.

But he said the city still is looking at the situation to determine what happened and if an affirmed order exists.

Porter Campbell is the executor of her mother’s estate, which owns the property in question. She said she found out about the demolition as it was happening. Her son, Nick Porter, got a text Feb. 5 from a friend who had driven by and saw the contractor at work that morning.

When Porter Campbell and her son arrived, the house was a pile of rubble, and crews were working to remove the debris. The two motioned to workers to stop and eventually succeeded and were able to talk to a supervisor on the phone and get a number to contact the city, she said.

After talking briefly to community development director Carl Malysz and then speaking with Logston twice, Porter Campbell decided to take some time to cool down and think before talking to her attorney, she said the morning after the demolition.

Porter Campbell still wasn’t sure Thursday about what, if any, actions she might take next and said she hadn’t yet had a chance to discuss the situation with her attorney.

But she did say, “I feel like I’ve let my parents and my grandparents down.”

House with a history

The house was first owned by Porter Campbell’s great-grandfather. Then her grandmother, a divorced mother of three, bought the house.

“She worked hard to buy that house and raised three boys in it,” Porter Campbell said, adding that one of her uncles was born in the front room in 1937.

When Porter Campbell’s grandmother remarried, the family added onto the house, she said. And there they stayed — it’s the only house her grandmother lived in until her death in 1995.

The house passed to Porter Campbell’s father, then to her mother, Nancy Baumann, the last listed owner of the house. It became part of Baumann’s estate, which Porter Campbell said still is open, after Baumann died in 2010.

Porter Campbell’s son was the last to live in the house, and the property has been vacant during the past few years. She said her son was preparing to fix up the house and move back in.

The family has done what police said to do to make the property safe, and someone — either a family member or family friend — went by regularly to check on the property, Porter Campbell said.

The family was shocked to learn the house had been torn down and that they never had a chance to remove valuables still stored inside, including a bedroom set and a stove, she said.

Neither Porter Campbell, as the executor of the estate, nor her attorney ever received any notice of the demolition, she said.

Records provided by Logston show receipts verifying that the city sent certified mail to Porter Campbell to inform her that the city was holding a hearing on the property and that a postal worker unsuccessfully attempted delivery to her home north of the city limits and just east of Taylorsville three times in August. That meets the city’s legal requirement for notifying property owners through mail.

Clark Greiner, who handled code enforcement for the city before resigning in early October, recommended Sept. 9 that the city try methods beyond certified mail and publication to reach the property owner. Records provided by the city don’t show evidence of that taking place, however.

Porter Campbell said she has had issues with mail delivery before. In her neighborhood, people sometimes take mail out of residents’ boxes and litter it across neighbors’ yards, she said.

But she said there has never been trouble with the city of Columbus contacting her to pay taxes and tax liens or to let her know there may have been someone in the house.

The notification letter went unclaimed, and the city published notice of the hearing in The Republic on Aug. 21 and 22. The city also published notice Dec. 15 and 22 that it would be taking bids for demolition.

Report, minutes don’t match

An Oct. 28 report to the Columbus Board of Public Works and Safety from Malysz said the five-member board, chaired by Mayor Kristen Brown, affirmed the order to demolish the house Oct. 7.

The minutes from the Oct. 7 meeting and the recording, however, show that the board took no action on the property. During that meeting, Logston told the board that the property had been ordered to be boarded up and that no further action was needed at that time.

Logston said Thursday morning that even though the board of works took bids and awarded a contract for the demolition of the Ninth Street property and two others in January, he hasn’t been able to find the meeting when the board affirmed the demolition order.

That’s a step required by city ordinance before a house can be torn down, except in emergency situations.

He said the city’s community development department may have acted preemptively in placing the property on the demolition list and seeking bids before the demolition order was affirmed. The community development department handles the process, getting administrative approval from the board of public works and giving information for legal notices to Logston, he said.

City officials are in the process of determining exactly what happened, and Logston is continuing to work with Porter Campbell and her attorney to come to a resolution, he said. Because the city is involved in legal discussions about the matter, Logston is handling any public comments at this time, he said Friday.

Logston said the process to demolish or repair unsafe buildings “has never been a process to try to push things through in a hurried manner.”

But the property, which has been “an ongoing concern for the past four or five years” and has resulted in 40 different calls to the city for various concerns — including when people thought someone might be living in the abandoned property — inevitably was headed to demolition, Logston said.

Notifying property owners

When notifying an property owner that a building has been added to the city’s list for possible demolition, the city must do one of the following:

  • Send a copy of the order or statement by registered or certified mail to the residence or place of business of the person legally responsible for the property, with return receipt requested.
  • Deliver a copy of the order or statement to the owner in person.
  • Leave a copy of the order or statement at the owner’s house and sending a copy by first class mail to the owner’s last known address.
  • Send a copy of the order or statement by first class mail to the owner’s last known address.

If the city is not able to successfully deliver the notice using the methods listed above, it may publish notice in a newspaper delivered to the county in which the property is located.

Action timeline for property at 1317 Ninth St.

Aug. 12, 2014: The Columbus Board of Public Works and Safety has the first public hearing on 1317 Ninth St. Board members vote to serve notice through publication, as notice delivered by certified mail went unclaimed after three attempts.

Sept. 9, 2014: The board modifies the order on 1317 Ninth St. to require the property to be sealed and give the city more time to contact the property owner. Clark Greiner, who handled code compliance for the city until resigning in early October, recommended the city try methods other than certified mail and publication to reach the property owner or family.

Oct. 28, 2014: A spreadsheet provided to the board by Carl Malysz reports that the board affirmed a demolition order on 1317 Ninth St. at its Oct. 7 meeting.

Dec. 9, 2014: Malysz reports to the board of works that the community development department is seeking bidders for the demolition of more properties.

Jan. 6, 2014: The board opens proposals from eight contractors for the demolition of 1317 Ninth St., 727 Reed St. and 834 Werner Avenue.

Jan. 27, 2014: The board awards the contract for demolition to Flat Rock-based Robertson Paving.

Feb. 4, 2015: Malysz sends Robertson Paving a letter giving it notice to proceed with the demolitions. The contractor gets a demolition permit for 1317 Ninth St. from the county.

Feb. 5, 2015: Robertson Paving starts demolition on 1317 Ninth St.

Feb. 11, 2015: A field agent for the county notes that demolition of the property is complete.

Unsafe housing and buildings program

Since June, the city’s Community Development Department, with administrative approval from the Columbus Board of Public Works and Safety, has worked to address unsafe conditions at 22 properties within the city limits.

Thirteen of those properties have been demolished, either by the owner or a city contractor:

  • 251 Pence St.
  • 241 Pence St.
  • 252 Pence St.
  • 2440 Indiana Ave.
  • 596 Glendale Drive
  • 1510 Pearl St.
  • 352 Jones St.
  • 1027 Pennsylvania St.
  • 1317 Ninth St.
  • 2013 N. Cherry St.
  • 727 Reed. St.
  • 834 Werner Ave.
  • 938 Franklin St.

Seven are being remodeled:

  • 2121 State St.
  • 1007 Lafayette St.
  • 1036 Union St.
  • 1313 Ninth St.
  • 1522 19th St.
  • 2143 23rd St.
  • 371 Jones. St.

The city is working on obtaining two to address through the Blight Elimination Program:

  • 2020 Sixth St.
  • 48 S. Hinman St.