Commissioners look at Regency Mall fires and wonder what to do
by Eric Johnson
Driven by reports of fires inside Regency Mall, commissioners received an update on the status of code enforcement violations at the long vacant mall.
Development Manager Rob Sherman admitted there had been another incident where vandals had accessed the building and said that, because of that, he had been in contact with the owners of the mall.
“They sent us an email today saying they would be in town this week and that they wanted to have some doors fabricated so it can be welded shut.”
In addition to securing the doors, the owners told Sherman they were planning to bring in equipment to gut the inside of the mall along the common areas and storefronts.
While Commissioner Bill Lockett seemed doubtful of the owners’ intentions, Sherman maintained that the mall’s owners had been responsive in the past.
“Each time we’ve notified them that we have an issue here, they’ve come in and secured the mall, cut the grass and trimmed the trees,” he said. “And then every time they leave, it reoccurs.”
While commissioners and staff have bickered about the condition of the building and the unkempt grounds, even going so far as entering the building to follow up claims of mold, this discussion centered on safety questions brought up by the recent fire.
“There are combustibles in the building,” said Chief Chris James, referring to carpeting and ceiling tiles that are still present. “The issue that we have with this building is that the alarm system is not in service. It needs to be in service. And the sprinkler system is not working throughout the building and it needs to be in service.”
James reported that the previous issues the department had with the building, that they were prevented from entering the property because of barriers, had been corrected with the removal of the barriers and the installation of a gate with a key.
James also expressed some concern about the condition of the parking lot near the back end of the mall area, which prompted discussion about the fact that a traveling circus was allowed to set up on the grounds when their arrangement on Wrightsboro Road fell through.
Though Commissioners Mason and Lockett spent quite a bit of time talking about the parking lot, which has been weakened by the erosion of the ground underneath it in an area near the old call center, it was the alarm system that dominated the discussion while also causing some dissent.
“If the building’s alarm system is inoperable, that’s unacceptable to me as a commissioner and it should be unacceptable to all commissioners,” Mason said. “But it’s certainly unacceptable to me, because if those types of combustibles are still a part of that building and we clearly know that there have been individuals inside the building, authorized or unauthorized, then that is an issue.”
Commissioner Jerry Brigham disagreed, urging restraint against singling out the mall building for violations that are undoubtedly being experienced elsewhere.
“I don’t think we ought to be singling out this place any differently than we should any other place that you think should have an alarm,” he said. “I think that we ought to only address these by ordinance. I don’t think we ought to address them by meeting with individual locations.”
Alluding to several other situations in the city’s past where commission actions have instigated further issues, he warned against getting themselves in a situation where they cause problems for themselves.
Though the committee agreed to receive the discussion as information and allow the Fire Department and License and Inspection to continue to work on the problem, including working with the fire marshal and Judge Jennings to figure out how to send a citation to the absentee owner, Planning and Development Director George Patty did restate what the commission has always known.
“If it’s the majority of the commission’s desire, we can start a process that would ultimately lead to requiring them to demolish that property,” he said. “That’s where all of our processes lead, to be honest with you, and maybe that’s what needs to happen.”You Might Also Like: