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Officials vote to uphold Town Plaza condemnation

Lawyer William Griffin of Ruidoso addresses the Roswell City Council Thursday night as he requests the city rescind its July condemnation of the Town Plaza Apartments on South Sunset Avenue. Deputy City Attorney Parker Patterson, Community Development Manager Bill Morris and City Attorney Aaron Holloman present legal arguments and testimony on behalf of the city. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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The Roswell City Council voted Thursday night to uphold its July condemnation of the Town Plaza Apartments on South Sunset Avenue after an appeal hearing in which the property owner’s lawyer indicated that he intends to sue over the city’s actions if the condemnation were not rescinded.

The vote was 6-3, with City Councilors Jeanine Corn Best, Jacob Roebuck, Judy Stubbs, Caleb Grant, Steve Henderson and Barry Foster voting against the motion to rescind the condemnation and Councilors Angela Moore, Juan Oropesa and Savino Sanchez voting for the motion. Councilor George Peterson was absent for that vote.

William Griffin, the lawyer for Larry “Rick” Edmisten III, alleged that his client had been denied due process by the city’s actions. Those included a Jan. 3 “red-tagging” of the property, with tenants being told to move out starting Jan. 8 and with the building vacated by late January. The city then voted during its July meeting to condemn the property along with several other properties.

Griffin contended that the only problem the owner was made aware of was a lack of hot water to some tenants. He noted his client had not received any citations or correction notices in 2017 or 2018, although a city building department manager said he had talked about problems with the property with the on-site manager during those years.

Bill Morris, community development manager, whose responsibilities include code enforcement and the building department, testified to having encountered a property in January that presented a safety issue to tenants. The problems included the roofs on all the buildings but the office had significant deterioration, that water and sewage was leaking inside and outside of units, that electrical lines were exposed, that some units were “unsecured” and being lived in by non-tenants, and that heating to all units was gone when water was shut off to stop leaking. He also said that, since the red-tagging, people had been inside units lighting fires.

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Griffin said that he and his client would not present evidence but were participating in the administrative process in the hopes that the City Council would reverse its decision and allow the owner the opportunity to work with city officials to make needed repairs. If that were not the outcome, he said, they were proceeding with the necessary administrative steps before heading to court.

Griffin said the City Council did not have the authority to take Edmisten’s property or to require that his tenants move out, thereby depriving Edmisten of $30,000 a month in rental income that could have been used to repair the property.

He repeatedly said that he and his client wanted the opportunity to redress the situation.

“We don’t want to sue anybody,” Griffin said. “We want due process and we just want to make use of the property.”

Morris and City Attorney Aaron Holloman, who acted during the appeal as the legal representative on behalf of city staff actions, said that city staff had tried to work with Edmisten and his employees after the January red-tagging and prior to the July condemnation vote and continues to be willing to discuss restoration plans the property owner might have as long as the buildings still exist. Holloman told councilors they do not have any immediate intentions to do anything with the property.

Following the vote, Griffin confirmed that he and his client intend to seek redress in the courts.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.