Some construction work that has taken place at City Hall in downtown Columbus throughout the past week appears to have been in violation of city ordinance.
The “erection, demolition, alteration or repair” of buildings within residential and commercial zones between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m. on weekdays is prohibited, according to muncipal code Section 19-2 (7), which addresses “unreasonable noises” in the city. The code states an exception can be made for “urgent necessity in the interest of public safety,” but that a permit for such work must be issued by the city council.
At least twice since last week, contractors have worked after 6 p.m. on City Hall’s exterior. City officials on Tuesday confirmed to The Dispatch they did not have a city council-issued permit to do so. City Hall is in a commercial zone.
The work in question is part of a $1.5 million interior and exterior renovation of City Hall being paid for by a Community Heritage Preservation grant through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Ricky Mordecai with Burks-Mordecai — the construction company serving as the project’s general contractor — said the company would try to stop working after 6 p.m. following city officials informing them of the issue.
The Dispatch witnessed the work occurring after 6 p.m. Monday.
Chris Coletta, a resident of Columbus Lodge, which sits next door to City Hall along Main Street, said that on the night of Sept. 22 the noise from construction workers irritated him so much he contacted the Columbus Police Department that night to complain. It was occurring after midnight, he said.
“You couldn’t sleep,” he told The Dispatch. “It was so loud that you couldn’t even watch TV in your bedroom.”
Coletta said police officers came downtown and looked into the matter, but workers were already packing up for the night.
“They said, ‘Look, we’re not going to enforce (the ordinance). You have to work it out with city hall,'” he said.
Coletta said the work at night happened several times.
“It would start around 7 and go through the middle of the night, then stop around daytime,” he said.
Coletta moved out of the downtown apartment last week. The move was unrelated to the work.
Mordecai said construction on City Hall ran in two shifts — one during the day, one at night — to avoid restricting access to the building. With two shifts, Mordecai said workers could work in the back during the day, then move to the front at night. He said workers will try to avoid taking up too much space in front of City Hall if two lifts are required to work within the ordinance-mandated hours.
“We told the crew to stop (6 p.m. Tuesday),” Mordecai said. “If two lifts take up too many parking places, we might have to ask for an extension to at least 9 p.m., but if not we’ll try to stay to 6 p.m. We will probably work two shifts if we can get an extension to 9 p.m. We can’t do that if we have to stop at 6 — there’s not enough hours.”
Kenny Wiegel, the city’s building inspector, said he was not aware that work at City Hall had occurred after 6 p.m. If a violation of city ordinance did occur, Wiegel said, he would give Burks Mordecai the benefit of doubt, saying they probably were unaware of the ordinance.
Typically, when a construction violation occurs and fine is issued, it is issued to the landowner. As far as how much a potential fine would be, Wiegel said that typically falls to the police department.
City Attorney Jeff Turnage said he was not aware of the matter until The Dispatch contacted him Tuesday. He declined to comment on the specifics of the matter. However, he said it didn’t necessarily represent a violation.
“The city can’t violate its own ordinances,” Turnage said. “The city also can’t fine itself.”
Mayor Robert Smith, who said he’d seen work at City Hall around 7 p.m. recently while there for Mayor’s Youth Council, said the city is looking into the matter.
He added the city should play by its own rules.
“You have an ordinance, so you want to follow your own policy, from the mayor and council’s perspective,” Smith said. “I’ve talked to (Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong) and told him to talk to Burks-Mordecai to tell them we’ve received complaints and asked them to cut off work at a decent hour.”
The Dispatch on Tuesday formally asked the city for a copy of the construction permit for the work at City Hall. The city has yet to provide the permit.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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