City councilors considering removing vacant buildings

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Belen city councilors are continuing to discuss a draft resolution that would result in the removal of eyesores littering the Hub City.

The council's first target is the Freeway Inn — a condemned building located in the center of the city, which has been vacant since it closed its doors in 2003.

Councilor Jerah Cordova presented the four-page draft of the resolution to councilors at an April city council meeting.

"As you know, for some time the city has had a problem with abandoned buildings and boarded up buildings," Cordova said. "We have a few in town that look pretty bad right now and are a safety hazard for the community."

The proposed resolution refers to the removal of "ruined, damaged and dilapidated materials," in this case the Freeway Inn, which has been damaged by vandalism since the property lacks security or protection from entry and exposure to the elements.

The resolution, created with the city attorney, Marcus J. Rael from Robles, Rael and Anaya, P.C., is based on a similar resolution passed by the village of Taos.

The 324 S. Main Street building has had reported problems of transients entering and exiting the building, as well as break-ins in surrounding neighborhood homes.

Belen Police Department records, dating back to August 2007, reveal criminal activity such as aggravated battery, where an individual claimed he was stabbed, criminal trespass of juveniles and burglary occurring in the motel.

The multi-unit motel was condemned in June 2009 by city building official Gary Barreras after finding substandard conditions, including black mold throughout the building, rotted floor decking, exposed electrical wiring, a roof in poor condition and combustible material stored in the main entrance.

"These buildings are deemed unsafe to an extent that endangers the life, limb, health, property, safety or welfare of the public or occupants thereof," states Barreras' report.

A final notice to demolish the "public nuisance" was mailed to the owners of the Freeway Inn in December 2009 by former city attorney Norman McDonald, but received no response, according to city documents.

If the resolution is adopted, the owner has 10 days to either demolish the building himself or protest the city's decision.

If the property owner doesn't respond, the city can knock down the building.

If the owner disputes the resolution, the council will set a hearing for the owner and reconsider the resolution. If they decide to uphold the resolution, the property owner has five days to file the case in district court. If he doesn't, the city can knock down the building.

If the district court affirms the city's actions, the city has five days to demolish the building.

To reimburse the city for expenses related to the building's demolishment, the city can place a lien on the property or sell any salvageable material left inside the building.

Once approved, this resolution would serve as a template for similar cases, said City Manager Mary Lucy Baca.

Mayor Rudy Jaramillo said this resolution is a big step toward beautifying the city.

"Anything is better than what's there right now," Jaramillo said.

Residents have voiced their concern of the building's conditions to Councilor David Carter more than once, he said.

"It's time we take action. If it's going to be a test case then so be it," Carter said.

But Councilor Wayne Gallegos said the council needs to proceed forward with caution, since this is the first time the city has addressed demolishing abandoned buildings.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.