STARKVILLE — The city of Starkville and Brookville Garden Apartments remain in legal negotiations after a judge last week issued a temporary restraining order barring the city from demolishing certain buildings which have been deemed a “menace.”
According to paperwork filed in federal court on Aug. 30, Brookville Schoolhouse Road Estates, LLC filed suit against the city and Mayor Lynn Spruill, claiming it had not been properly notified of building demolitions at Brookville Garden Apartments in Starkville and was not given adequate time to repair the buildings.
The board of aldermen unanimously voted on May 18 to demolish buildings 4, 5 and 8 at Brookville Garden deeming them a “menace” to the public health, safety and welfare of the community. Code Enforcement Officer Sarah Perez and Building Official Stein McMullen told aldermen they thoroughly examined these buildings and found conditions unsuitable for public health and safety such as water damage, broken windows, weak floors, roof damage, mold and mildew.
At the time, Perez informed the board that she took all appropriate measures when evaluating the buildings, inspecting the property on three separate occasions — Jan. 12, March 4 and April 7. Perez and McMullen returned one final time on April 29, but no progress had been made.
According to the city’s agenda archive, notices of the public hearing regarding the demolition were posted at Brookville Garden and City Hall April 28 and notification letters were sent to the property April 30.
The owner of the apartments, Chain Puretz, claims in the lawsuit he was under the impression that under Mississippi law, he would have the opportunity to repair the property once the city deemed it unlivable. According to the lawsuit, Puretz had retained a contractor to renovate these buildings once the board declared them dilapidated, but the city rejected his applications for repair and intended to move forward with its plan of demolition.
“The way that we read Mississippi law — when the city of Starkville makes its determination that there’s a property that either has repairs that are needed or needs to be cleaned up — the owners have the right to do those repairs or those cleanups on their own,” Puretz’s attorney, Joseph Kahane, said in the complaint. “Only if they don’t do it does the city have the right to go in and take action on its own.”
Mayor Lynn Spruill said the city has been trying to contact Puretz and Brookville Schoolhouse Road Estates for several years to request repairs be made to the property, but no action was ever taken. She said only when the city voted to move forward with demolition, following proper Mississippi code section 21-19-11, did that “get (Puretz’s) attention.”
“They had years (to get the repairs done),” Spruill said. “We started with them in 2017, and they had years that they could have made those repairs to the buildings all along that time. We contacted them multiple times due to complaints from the residents, and we got no response.”
All parties involved met in a United States district court in Oxford Thursday to discuss the pending litigation.
District Judge Sharion Aycock issued a restraining order against the city from Brookville Garden, effective until Oct. 1; however, in paperwork filed Tuesday, Spruill said she, the city and Brookville Schoolhouse Road Estates are in negotiations for a forbearance agreement on the potential to find a solution to hold off on demolition until they can sell the property.
“We’re looking at how we can make it work for the community,” Spruill said. “… It’s a matter in litigation, and we’re hoping we can work our way through that to the satisfaction of all parties”
Kahane told The Dispatch he hopes to see his client and the city work together and find a way to resolve the issue.
“The owners continue to stand ready, willing and able to make all the necessary repairs and to work cooperatively with the city to ensure that the residents of Starkville have quality places to live,” Kahane said.