November 27, 2022

Condemnation motivates owners to bring their properties up to code, city officials told the Hot Springs Board of Directors on Tuesday.
According to property records, the city has recorded more than 70 notices to condemn since the start of 2020. Officials say the list of vacant/unsafe structures numbers in the hundreds.
Three condemnations were on the board’s agenda Tuesday night. Chief Building Official Mike Scott told the board the 30 days between its adoption of a resolution to condemn and the recording of the notice of condemnation give owners time to apply for building permits and show good faith.
The threat of condemnation can also be effective.
“Six months ago none of that was there, but he knew we were taking it to you guys,” Scott, referring to improvements made at the 1104 Park Ave. address brought up for condemnation, told the board.
“That triggers people to take action. Going to court did not trigger any action. None. We’ve been doing this since 1996. The house before this was 2001. Honestly, I don’t want to live next door to either one of these,” he said.
Neighborhood services opened a file in 1996 on the Park Avenue home that was originally part of the Mountainaire Hotel property, Scott said.
“Violations that make this property a nuisance include missing soffit and fascia, missing windows and doors, missing handrails over balconies, improperly installed wiring and electrical services,” he told the board. “We’ve run vagrants out of there numerous times. Mr. (Dragan) Vicentic has received numerous notices and citations requesting the repairs be made to the structure to no avail.”
According to property records, Vicentic bought the house from the hotel’s builder in 1994. He received nine criminal citations in June of last year for allegedly violating the city’s property maintenance code. Earlier that month, the city sent Vicentic a letter notifying him of the violations. It was the fourth such letter in less than three years, according to information included in the request for board action.
Vicentic was convicted on all nine citations after a trial earlier this year in Garland County District Court. The circuit court affirmed convictions on the five counts he appealed. Vicentic filed a notice of appeal to the state Court of Appeals in August.
“I always thought the reason for the letters was to repair the property,” Vicentic told the board. “I got a building permit. Why did I get a criminal citation three days later? There’s an agenda here that is far and beyond just fixing this property. Several people who live in that neighborhood are using their political clout to try to condemn and remove the property.”
The Edgewood Street address next door was sold earlier this year and is listed as a vacation rental on the city GIS map.
“There’s nothing about this house that’s condemnable,” Vicentic said. “The structure is solid. The foundation is solid. Nothing is falling on you when you walk by. There’s no reason for this condemnation proceeding other than these people in the neighborhood who keep calling Mike.”
The board voted to table the resolution to its Oct. 18 business meeting. District 1 Director Erin Holliday voted against the motion to table. She told the board the building has been vacant for more than 10 years.
“At least as long as I have lived in this town it’s been vacant and in some form of this,” she said.
District 4 Director Carroll Weatherford told her other properties have sat vacant longer.
“That doesn’t make it condemnable,” he said.
Weatherford told the board no action has been taken against properties in worse disrepair than Vicentic’s.
“This is in no worse shape than the one in front or nursing home down the street,” he said. “It has absolutely no windows in it. We don’t know what’s living in there. I think we need to be concentrating on the really bad ones.”
Vicentic agreed.
“You have the Royal Vista,” he told the board. “You’ve got the old Mountainaire next door. You’ve got the old nursing home down the street. You’ve got the Arlington that has bricks falling on people’s heads, and you’re worried about this property that isn’t bothering anybody.”
The board voted last month to condemn the old Hot Springs High fieldhouse. The city said the unsafe structures demolition budget didn’t include funds to tear down the historic building. Weatherford said 1104 Park Ave. would also be an expensive tear-down.
The 2022 general fund budget the board adopted last year included about $150,000 for demolitions, the city said.
“We’ve already taken on a big one,” Weatherford, referring to the fieldhouse, told Scott. “If you’ve got to tear it down, it’s going to use most of your budget. Are you ready to use the rest of your budget on another house?”
Scott said condemnation doesn’t always result in demolition.
“Condemnation is a process to get them to move to the next step and actually do something,” he told Weatherford. “I may not have the money, but I might. If it becomes a problem, we will tear it down.”
Weatherford voted against the resolution condemning 208 Clara St., telling the board condemnation will complicate the loan owner Laron Christmas said a friend applied for on his behalf.
“If the man really has gone to the bank, condemnation is going to kill his loan,” Weatherford said. “No bank is going to loan him money on a condemned house. We’ve ruined his opportunity to get that loan by condemning.”
Scott told the board Christmas received a building permit for $50,000 of work last month. He said an addition to the back of the house and the carport roof have collapsed. The electric service is faulty and outdated, and a squatter was recently living in the structure.
“We will not proceed with removal of the structure if repairs are started and progress made,” Scott told the board.
The vote to condemn 322 Pleasant Valley St. was unanimous. Scott told the board the home was built on piers and requires extensive work on the foundation. He said the new owner had made progress since the board tabled the condemnation at its Sept. 6 meeting.
“He’s cleaned up the yard and built a privacy fence and tried to make it look nicer,” Scott said.
Arturo Marez acquired the property last month, telling the board he lives a few houses down and that his sister and brother-in-law have also moved to the neighborhood.
“I’m here to ask for the opportunity to bring back the charm to my neighborhood and take the soreness out of the eye,” he said. “I know it’s going to be a big task, but I’m willing and ready to do it.”
Mayor Pat McCabe said the city wants to accommodate owners who show good faith.
“Our goal is to give you some time to fix it, but not maintain a structure that is in unsafe condition,” he told Marez.

Print Headline: City board of directors votes on condemnations
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