The State Court of Appeals on Wednesday said Circuit Judge Jodi Raines Dennis ruled properly when she found Garland Trice guilty of violating a Pine Bluff city ordinance.
In a 14-page ruling, the state court rejected multiple arguments by Trice and his attorney, including several alleging that his due process rights were violated because the proper entities had not handled his case. According to the appeal, Trice was the designated agent for Medic Transport, which owned the Sahara Temple at 620 S. Main St. in Pine Bluff’s Historic District. On July 25, 2014, a part of the third-floor roof of the building collapsed.
After nearly three years of sitting half-collapsed and causing a section of Main Street between Sixth and Eighth avenues to be closed, demolition on Trice’s condemned building at 620 S. Main St. was completed in April of this year.
Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington ordered the action after Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Chief Shauwn Howell declared the building “hazardous to life and property … (it) presents an imminent danger to public health and welfare of the citizens of Pine Bluff.”
In a news release, the city said that “Due to anticipated weather patterns and the instability, deterioration and continuous collapse of the structure, Chief Howell has declared an emergency and ordered its immediate abatement, pursuant to the Arkansas Fire Prevention Code 2012 Edition Section 110 Unsafe Buildings and the Pine Bluff Code of Ordinance §16-1 and §16-2.” As a result of this declaration, the demolition will be carried out by Wagner Construction, and Snyder Environmental will manage asbestos control.”
Trice was out of state at the time of the collapse but asked an associate to assess the damage.
He hired Keith Fix, principal engineer at Red Pepper Consulting Inc., who assessed the state of the building. On July 31, Fix reported that the collapse of part of the roof was likely due to the failure of the weakened trusses. Additionally, Fix reported that the walls were not fully attached to the remaining roof.
Fix said in a letter that he believed there was no immediate danger of total collapse but recommended closing off traffic until demolition of the collapsed area was complete.
Fix also recommended that access to the perimeter surrounding the building be restricted.
Soon after, Trice received a letter from the city’s Department of Inspection and Zoning telling him that he was in violation of a city ordinance and as the property owner or agent for the owner, he was responsible for building maintenance.
That letter also included a list of 15 major structural issues. Trice was told that he would be required to obtain permits to either repair or tear down the building, and that failure to do so would result in the Pine Bluff City Council being asked to declare the property a nuisance and order its abatement.
On Sept. 8, Trice submitted a plan which he described as “cursory” and said a more detailed plan would be submitted when additional information is obtained from the structural engineer and architect. Two days later, Mitzi Ruth sent Trice a letter telling him that he would be required to submit the documents and plans he received, and after approved, the proper permits would be issued.
In November, Trice sent Inspection and Zoning a one-page plan with an estimate that it would take 28 to 36 months to renovate the building. Ruth responded that the plan was not acceptable because it lacked professional statements and stamped plans from an architect and structural engineer. Ruth also said that the proposed timeframe was unacceptable.
After the City Council declared the building a nuisance in February 2015, Trice appealed that decision to the Board of Adjustments and Appeals, which denied it. Trice then was issued a citation in April for failure to demolish his property. He appealed the citation to Pine Bluff District Court and on June 14, 2016, a bench trial was held at which Trice was found guilty.
He was fined $1,100 and sentenced to 30 days in jail, which was suspended dependent on the razing of the building. Trice appealed that decision to Circuit Court, which held a bench trial on Oct. 24, 2016. At that trial, Judge Dennis found him guilty. Trice then appealed to the State Court of Appeals.
In that appeal, Trice argued that the Historical District Commission had jurisdiction over his property, that the city interfered with his compliance with the ordinance by denying him the proper permits, that the Board of Adjustments and Appeals was not in place when the roof collapsed, when the city condemned his property, or when a resolution was passed declaring his property a nuisance. Finally, Trice questioned whether the property was ever properly certified as a nuisance.
Regarding his contention about the historic district commission having jurisdiction, Associate Appeals Court Justice Bart Virden wrote that Trice was incorrect. At Trice’s trial, architect Henry Sadler, who is a member of the Historical District Commission, testified that if a “building code official deems it necessary to do an emergency demolition, it would not come through the Historical District Commission.”
Virden said that the issues regarding the building went beyond the character of the building and into the safety of the public and the authority to determine the status of the building belonged to the city.
Regarding the denial of permits by the city, Trice contended that the assessment by Fix was an adequate plan for renovation and that Trice’s “experience, qualifications and license are sufficient such that a permit for repair should have been issued to him.”
Virden said in the ruling that Trice cited no authority to support his argument and that the letter to Trice in August 2014 included the direction that the price of the repair permit would be based on the estimated cost of repairs. That estimated cost of repairs was not included in either of the plans for renovation he submitted, therefore he failed to meet one of the qualifications required to obtain a permit.
As far as the contention that the City Council never properly certified the building, the state court said that since Trice did not appeal that issue to the circuit court, he is barred from raising it now.