Fort Worth halts demolitions while it rewrites rules

Posted Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The city has halted demolitions of substandard structures while it investigates two recent cases in which the wrong homes were torn down and it rewrites procedures for future cases, a city spokesman said Wednesday.

On July 11, a city-hired contractor tore down two homes on the same lot at 1308 Lagonda Ave. on the north side when it had a work order to raze just one that had been damaged by fire, spokesman Bill Begley confirmed Wednesday.

Fort Worth officials discovered that error while the city was investigating the incorrect demolition July 12 of a Lake Worth-area home at 9716 Watercress Drive, Begley said. The city confirmed in mid-July that it had torn down the wrong Watercress home.

The same contractor tore down both homes, and the same city code compliance supervisor was over both cases, Begley said.

With the Watercress house, a city crew marked the wrong home for demolition, Begley said. The crew should have marked the house next door.

The city has placed the supervisor on administrative leave while it completes its inquiry, Begley said.

Representatives of the contractor did not return a call to its office Wednesday. The contractor has won the bids to demolish 38 of the 53 structures that Fort Worth has ordered razed this fiscal year, Begley said. Its website says it does business with numerous governmental entities in North Texas.

The city plans to review all previous demolition cases involving the contractor and supervisor, Begley said.

The city staff is installing more safeguards to require more “documentation and accountability,” Begley said.

“Each step has to be approved before you move on to the next one,” Begley said.

The staff will present the revised rules to the City Council in September for review, he said. No vote is required.

The Star-Telegram could not reach the owner of the Lagonda property.

In an interview with KDFW/Channel 4, Juanita Anchonda, who told Fox that she is a member of the family that owns the home, said numerous personal items were lost when it was torn down.

“My mom’s stuff, her clothes, her shoes, her boots, everything,” Anchonda told the Fox station. “Her pictures, my grandma’s pictures.”

Anchonda said the family members had not complained to the city because they assumed it had the authority to raze both structures.

The city’s Building Standards Commission had issued a demolition order for the fire-damaged primary residence on the property, Begley said.

The work order included a sketch of the house and photos, he said. It did not include a second home on the property, which had no code violations on record, Begley said.

“There was nothing in there about secondary structures,” Begley said.

A code officer reported the incorrect razing to his supervisor, “but that was not communicated up the chain,” Begley said.

The city is still investigating, he said. It owes $4,316 to the contractor and hasn’t paid yet, he said.

‘Do what’s fair’

Begley said the city had sent certified letters notifying the property owners of the impending demolition and had received acknowledgments of receipt, he said.

The city is trying to contact the Lagonda property owner and plans to enter into talks to “do what’s fair,” Begley said.

In the Watercress case, it’s negotiating the value of the property with the owner, Begley said. The city owes more than $6,000 to the contractor for that demolition and hasn’t paid yet, he said.

The city is in the middle of at least one other recent case in which a property owner alleged an improper tear-down.

A couple in the Stop Six neighborhood sued the city this year in state District Court, alleging that Fort Worth tore down the wrong commercial building on Valentine’s Day 2011 and won’t pony up.

Ernest and Verna Leck sued the city and a different demolition contractor. The city knocked down the Lecks’ 50-by-50-foot building at 1926 Amanda Ave. when it was supposed to tear down someone else’s next door at 1928 Amanda Ave., the suit alleges.

The city has said it can’t comment because of the litigation.

Ernest Leck ran a grocery store in his building for years and closed it in 2000. It was vacant at the time of the demolition, Verna Leck said.

The couple had been asking for $150,000 before filing suit.

The Lecks’ building virtually abutted the one next door, and the demolition contractor likely assumed that both structures were one, she said.

Scott Nishimura, 817-390-7808 Twitter: @JScottNishimura

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