No news on downtown eyesore

By James Johnson

August 2, 2014

LUMBERTON — Almost two years after a blaze destroyed a vacant two-story building in downtown Lumberton, the blemish still remains.

On Oct. 10, 2012, a two-story building at 305 N. Elm St. was gutted by a fire that burned hot enough to cause major glass damage to surrounding businesses. While the debris has since been removed, there remains an exposed wooden skeleton where a wall once connected to a vacant building beside the 305 N. Elm St. location.

Shortly after the fire, Jody Allen, the then director of inspections, lamented that rebuilding a safe and sturdy wall to replace the one that had been destroyed by the fire could take months. Two years later, some locals are wondering what the hold up has been.

“It is very frustrating,” said Connie Russ, downtown development coordinator. “We are trying to make improvements in our downtown and we have come a long way as far as the city has done things, we have been very vigilant but unfortunately our private property owners do not seem as concerned.”

According to Dick Taylor, who owns the property as well as a number of other buildings downtown, no one is more eager to see the repairs completed than him, but delays from his contractor have slowed progress.

“We had a contractor who was supposed to come in and he has promised and promised and it has gone on for a good long period of time, so we are trying to make other arrangements,” Taylor said. “… We are working on it as quickly as we can so we can protect the building that is left. We are hoping to have enough footing down there within the next week or two and then we can start on the brickwork.”

According to Russ, the city of Lumberton is currently in the midst of getting its land use ordinances rewritten, and she is seeking to set new rules and regulations that would apply specifically to buildings located in the historic downtown district.

“It would include things that we would like to see done with burn- out buildings or abandoned buildings,” Russ said. “It would be an extra layer of rules and regulations.”

After writing what is known as a historic overlay for the downtown district, Russ said that it will still require approval from the City Council, and may not see implementation until the year 2015.