, Muskogee, OK

July 9, 2013

City to sue over derelict houses

Efforts to demolish them delayed since 2009

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— City councilors authorized a request to file a lawsuit against the owner of two houses in northwestern Muskogee that have been slated for demolition since 2009.

Code enforcement officers determined then that the structures at 413 and 417 Tamaroa Street were “severely dilapidated.” Documents show city officials “received numerous complaints” about the derelict structures “dating back to 2004.”

A Feb. 19, 2009, notice sent to property owner Ken Black describes the structures as “unsafe or unfit for human occupancy due to its dilapidated condition.” The notice cites a code enforcement officer’s finding that the structures have “become detrimental to the health, safety and ... welfare of the public.”

Black made no appearance Monday to address city councilors or oppose the city attorney’s request for authorization to file the suit. Efforts to reach Black by telephone were unsuccessful.

City records show Black appealed the city’s initial finding in 2009, with his lawyer arguing the structures did not meet the definition of “unsafe” as the term is defined by the municipal code. Michael Littlefield, who represented Black during the municipal appeals process, acknowledges in his notice to appeal that both structures were damaged by the 2007 ice storm but posed no “immediate danger to humans.”

“Both of these adjacent structures are on private property which is posted to prevent trespass and not accessible to the public,” Littlefield states in the notice dated May 19, 2009. “No imminent safety issues are in existence regarding either property.”

City Attorney Roy Tucker said the structures have been condemned and gone through the administrative appeals process “a couple of times.” Documents show both structures were approved for demolition in September 2009 and again a year later.

“We have condemned them through the Public Nuisance Appeals Board a couple times, and each time we have been unable to complete that process,” Tucker said. “Every time we have tried, obstacles have come into play and kept us from doing that.”

Tucker said he believes that taking the issue to Muskogee County District Court will help accelerate the process. He said policy requires City Council approval before that process can begin.

Black’s initial challenge of code enforcement officers’ findings was denied by the Public Nuisance Appeal Board in September 2009. Black contested that decision in municipal court on the grounds of improper service of the notice required before board members made that ruling.

Documents show that Black reached an agreement with the municipal judge that would allow him to demolish the structure at 413 Tamaroa St. and remodel the structure at 417 Tamaroa St. Public Nuisance Appeal Board members approved for a second time the demolition of both structures after being advised a year later that none of the work promised had been performed.

Planning Director Gary Garvin said that after the second demolition order was issued, somebody parked several vehicles near the structures. That made it impossible for crews to demolish the structures without damaging the vehicles, he said.

“That is our goal — to get this resolved and get it behind us,” Garvin said about the lawsuit. “There are a lot of people in that neighborhood who are concerned about the risks associated with those structures and want to see them torn down.”

Tucker said the lawsuit basically will be a civil action to abate a public nuisance and public health hazard. He said he would ask a district court judge to make a finding that the structures are dilapidated.

“We will ask for them to be torn down or repaired by a certain date,” Tucker said. “I think this could help us streamline this process.”

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or