Friday, June 05, 2009

No Justice in Portsmouth

317 Front Street

I've heard a number of times in the last twenty years that one of the things that has accelerated the economic decline of Portsmouth has been the practice of excluding outside businesses from getting a foothold. The Chamber of Commerce and civic leaders would strongly deny this accusation. Undoubtedly, the Chamber of Commerce and public officials are all for new businesses, in principle. However, what an individual is strongly for in principle, and in general, will not necessarily be what he is for in practice, not when it is his particular business that would face more competition. "Not in my backyard!"

A current possible example of this "Not in my backyard!" attitude might be the obstacles the city is placing in the way of J. & P. Caulking, Inc., a Columbus-based construction and renovation business that has bought several old buildings in downtown Portsmouth and begun to restore them. In November 2008, the owners of J. & P. Caulking, Paul Adkins and his family, bought a three-story brick building on 317 Front St. for $12,900. I was told that 317 Front St. had previously been condemned by the city. Built in 1900, according records in the County Auditor's office, the tall narrow building was in danger of collapsing, but the Adkinses  thought it could be stabilized and renovated. Their plan was to create apartments on the two top floors and an ice cream parlor on the ground floor. The city granted the new owners a building permit, but it wasn't long before Larry Justice began bugging the Adkinses about one thing and another. If anybody should be hauled in to court because of rundown property, it is Justice himself, for the building in which he once had a manufacturing business, on Spring Lane, is an embarrassment to the city, as I pointed out in a previous blog

People who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Since he is the Residential Building Inspector, the Sidewalk Inspector, the Code Enforcement Officer, and the Land Reutilization point man, Justice is in position to do a lot of mischief. Most recently, he had warned the Adkinses that the color they are painting the side of the building is not a color the Architectural Review Board would approve, and the large display windows that have been installed on the ground floor are not acceptable either. Why not? The windows are manufactured by Peachtree Doors and Windows, a solid Wisconsin company that has been in business for over forty years, so the Adkinses cannot be accused of using shoddy materials. Instead of harassing and impeding the Adkinses, the city should be doing everything it can to help and encourage them to restore 317 Front St.

Stop Work Order

I think a review board is a good thing for any community to have, but it is not a good thing to use as a political tool to harass outside contractors trying to do business in the city, especially when that outside contractor is investing many thousands of dollars to renovate a building that has some architectural value but a building that constitutes a public hazard as long as it stands as it is, looking like it could be blown over in a good wind storm. If the city is not going to seize the building as a hazard to the public, and go through the expense of tearing it down; if the city is going to grant the Adkinses a permit to renovate the building, then it shouldn't harass them and order all work on the building stopped because of the color the east side of the building is being painted and because the design of the windows on the front are not up to the Architectural Review Board standards. Give us a break, please! This is Portsmouth where so many of Neal Hatcher's properties were for years allowed to become an eyesore and the neighborhoods they are in become hangouts for drug dealers and prostitutes. This is Portsmouth where there are still neighborhoods that look like rattraps and breeding grounds for poverty, drugs and prostitution. And yet Larry Justice has ordered all work on 317 Front St. stopped because the color of the paint on the side and the design of the new windows allegedly do not conform to the design  standards of the Review Board.

The city appears to be harassing the Adkinses about another building they are in the process of restoring, at 1511 3rd St., on the east side of the city, a neighborhood that needs more than a face lift: it needs major surgery. But the city and Larry Justice ordered work on 1511 3rd stopped because of the equipment parked outside the building. There is a crying need for parking space, don't you know? Ordering the Adkinses to stop working on 1511 3rd St. because their equipment is taking up parking space is like towing away a doctor's car while he is inside treating a patient.

Why is the city and Larry Justice doing this? Is it just random stupidity and incompetence? Or is there a jealous contractor who had hoped to pick up 317 Front St. for a pittance but was surprised when the Adkinses came along and paid $12,900 for a building that had been condemned and would require many thousands of dollars to renovate? When I say jealous developer I don't mean Neal Hatcher but rather a minor league developer. But it is not the minor league developer but Justice who may be in the best position to impede outsiders, who are not close to the ruling clique that the Building Inspector and Mayor Kalb obligingly serve. One of the ironies is that Justice complains about the  color of paint and the design of windows at 317 Front St. do not conform to Portsmouth's high architectural standards while the building in which  Justice once conducted a business (Quality Sheathing Co.) on Spring Lane, is a sight to behold and has been for many years. When Justice  failed to pay Workmen's Compensation taxes, the state put a a lien on his property and got a judgment against him for $7,053.76. Justice has been officially reprimanded in writing at least twice, once for lying to his immediate superior about an important zoning matter, and again for his contacts with a state official, in which he claimed authority and a job title that he did not possess. Not only has the state got him for not paying taxes, SOMC has had to take him to court to pay a hospital bill. Is it too much to hope that, next year, in addition to a new mayor, Portsmouth may also have a new building inspector? That would be a situation in which no Justice would be welcomed.

817 Spring Lane, site of deadbeat Justice's failed business.