Saline City Council appointed Greg Marker, of OHM Advisors, to serve as the City of Saline’s Dangerous Building Hearing Officer.
Council made the appointment two days after a roof collapse forced the evacuation of apartments at 266 Clark Street and less than a week after city planners talked about using its new dangerous building ordinance to clean up the unfinished Clean Getaway car wash on Sage Court.
Council approved the ordinance in April of 2018 and it took effect the next month. The ordinance gives the city a mechanism to force property owners to improve dilapidated, decaying, faulty or unfinished structures – potentially under threat of having the building demolished. And if the building is demolished, the owner would be on the hook for the costs. Procedurally, after the city building official issues a dangerous building notice, the city’s hearing officer will take testimony of the city, the property owner and any interested hearing before issuing a decision either closing the proceedings or ordering the building demolished or otherwise made safe.
The city had begun cranking the gears on this ordinance to deal with the unfinished car wash on the east side of town when something decidedly more serious occurred Saturday morning. The roof failure at Thorncrest Apartments Saturday morning is being blamed on over stacking roofing materials on the roof of the apartment. The roof collapsed several feet and also damaged the exterior walls. City building inspector Steve Maciag sealed the buildings and at least some of residents of the apartment building were moved into new apartments. In some cases, residents were allowed to briefly return to their apartments to retrieve some belongings, under the watchful eye of Saline firefighters. In other cases, residents were forced to leave behind important belongings – even a pet cat, in one instance.
“What happened this weekend is inexcusable and needs to be resolved as quickly as possible,” Mayor Brian Marl said, adding that he thought the building ordinance would be a useful tool for the city.
Council acted with unusual haste. Marl and city staff typically don’t add action items to the agenda at the last minute.
“But in light of what happened this weekend, this was imperative,” Marl said
City Manager Todd Campbell said the city wants to use the ordinance to make the apartments safe again for residents.
“To move forward, we’re going to utilize the dangerous building ordinance to make sure the building is brought back up to standards where it should be,” City Manager Todd Campbell told council.
Campbell said the city was working with Maciag, city attorney Tom Forshee, and an engineering firm to ensure the property the apartments will be improved. Campbell said Marker has experience as a hearings officer. Marker is the dangerous buildings officer for several communities, including Ypsilanti and Milan.
Councillor Christen Mitchell asked Campbell how residents should report substandard or unsafe conditions to the city. Campbell said residents can contact the city with issues. Still, because the city doesn’t have a building maintenance code, it lacks the flexibility some cities have when dealing with safety issues in multi-family homes. Councillor Linda TerHaar asked Attorney Forshee if the city would benefit from having a building maintenance code. Forshee said it was a policy decision council needed to make. Pressed by TerHaar, however, Forshee said Grand Rapids used such an ordinance successfully.
Councillor Dean Girbach expressed support for a building maintenance code. He added the city has had several building maintenance issues with Thorncrest.
“The roof failure is a symptom of a number of problems we’ve had at that complex,” Girbach said.
Marl recommended to TerHaar that the city’s code review task force take up the matter at its upcoming meeting.