More than 20 years of playing with fire finally burned Augusta homeowner Harold Miller. The City Council voted 4-3 to proceed with plans to demolish his house at 1627 Robbins St.
Despite making progress on his fire damaged home, Miller had not satisfied the city’s requirement that the home be made safe for human habitation.
Neighbors have been complaining about the number of vehicles around the home and the general condition of the property for more than 20 years. About 12 years ago, the home was damaged by a small fire.
The damage caused by the fire and the firefighters’ efforts to extinguish it were was addressed. The initial damage – estimated at less than $1,000 at the time of the fire – has escalated rapidly as the elements were allowed to affect the interior of the home through a hole in the roof.
Miller has claimed all along that he is the victim of overly sensitive neighbors who have an axe to grind with him.
However, he admittedly would move cars in a parade around his home six feet at a tie to flaunt the city’s ordinances. No work was done on the structure until Miller faced legal action by the city.
City Inspector Dan Allen found a soft spot for Miller over the past few weeks.
“He has moved a ton of stuff,” Allen told the governing body Tuesday night which elicited laughter from neighbors in the audience. “Laugh if you want, but with the heat this summer, I would challenge you to find anyone who has done this much work by himself.”
Allen said Miller put a new roof on the house and hauled off several illegal vehicles and cleaned up the property a great deal.
Councilor Matt Childers addressed a neighbor’s point that Miller had not used a licensed contractor to put the roof on. City code requires a licensed contractor unless the house is a person’s residence.
Allen said the home still could be used as Miller’s residence so he received his permit. But Miller admitted later in the meeting that he “might rent the home” and never indicated that he had any plans of moving back into the house.
Another point of contention arose when it was learned that Miller had moved a boat and other items off of the Robbins St. property to his current residence on Henry St.
Councilor Sue Jones said she had no intention of supporting giving Miller extra time to complete the work at the property.
“It had to be brought to the council to get anything done,” Jones said. “I am outraged that we are even considering giving him more time.”
Page 2 of 3 - Allen and Mayor Kristey Williams both pointed out that with the $5,500 cost of demolition and removal and various liens against the property that the city would probably be left with a vacant lot that they would have to care for forever.”
Tim Johnson, whose mother still lives in the area, implored the council not to let fears of that possibility keep them from doing what needs to be done.
Neighbor Anita Elliott assured the governing body that the neighbors would not allow a vacant lot to become a problem for the city.
“I will mow it every day if I have to,” she said. “Don’t play his game. He scrambles around at the last minute and looks pathetic and people feel sorry for him and give him more time. I don’t know how to make it clear how frustrated we are.”
Councilor Mike Wallace agreed that something needed to be done but he had a hard time not thinking about the feelings of the homeowner.
“I ask myself, ‘What would Jesus do?’” Wallace said. “I feel sorry for him but I know what the neighbors have been going through and think his time should be up.”
Mike Huddleston disagreed.
“I am not of the opinion to let this go on indefinitely,” Councilor Huddleston said. “But I struggle with property owners’ rights and as long as progress is being made, I would like to allow more time to complete the improvements.”
Huddleston said he didn’t want anyone to take advantage of the city but he made a motion to give Miller an additional 45 days to work with Allen to make sure he was still making progress on the property.
Mike Rawlings seconded the motion.
Huddleston, Wallace and Ron Reavis voted in favor of allowing the extra time. Rawlings, Jones and Childers voted against. Holly Harper said she would support extra time with very specific guidelines. However, after she was reminded of the language of the motion on the floor, she voted against allowing more time.
Jones made a motion to proceed with plans for demolition. Childers seconded that motion.
The same 4-3 vote (with Matt Malone absent for the first time in his tenure on the council) sealed the fate of the property.
Miller asked how he could appeal the decision.
City Manager Bill Keefer said if he planned to, Miller should act quickly. He estimated that the house would be demolished in 10-15 days.
Johnson had referenced an upcoming work session the council has planned to discuss the process used to demolish the home.
Page 3 of 3 - “The system is obviously broken,” Johnson said. “For more than 22 years, people in the area have felt like no one is looking out for them. I would suggest that you consider rules that wouldn’t reward the people that are up here continuously.”