Neighbors of a home on Hamilton Lane in Harbor are no closer to answers about the status of a property that burned last month, despite continued concern people are still living in the charred husk of the building that has no sewer or water service.
“There was no clear directive,” Harbor Fire Chief John Brazil said Thursday, of requests of Curry County commissioners at a meeting Wednesday where residents demanded action. “I don’t know. Hopefully the property owners … will clean it up. I know there’s activity the residents are cautious of, and that’s where it sits.”
“In the short-term, our hands are a little bit tied,” Interim County Manager John Hitt said Thursday. “It’s a multiple-step process.”
County commissioners will likely issue an order at their Jan. 3 meeting to the property owner Susie Hamilton to appear before them and explain why the problem should not be abated. If Hamilton fails to appear, the county would notify her, then clean up the property and charge her for the work.
About a half-dozen neighbors addressed the commissioners, saying people are living in cars on the property, despite signs erected prohibiting activity there since the late-night Oct. 15 fire.
The second floor of the house collapsed and the center of the home was burned. No one was injured, although neighbors said people continue to return to the house and now are living in the ruins or in unregistered vehicles driven and parked there.
“The house is destroyed,” said Finley Cheshire, who lives next door. “It’s a burned-down hulk. The top floor is collapsed onto the first floor. We don’t feel safe on our own property. Every time we go there, the first thing we do is check to see we haven’t been broken into.”
“In the past five weeks, there has been increased activity there,” neighbor Laurel Bigelow told commissioners. “There’s Susie Hamilton, two pregnant women, two guys — just this morning, they’re all hollering and screaming. And no water, no sewer … Something has to be done.”
Brazil noted problems have been ongoing for years.
“I remember in January 2013 sending a letter of concern to the board of county commissioners,” Brazil said. “We have brought this to the attention of the board for the last four years, and here we are today.”
Even though the county has no code enforcement officer, there are ordinances on the books to minimize such activity, he noted.
“Law enforcement needs to expedite this situation,” Brazil said. “It’s been over four years. We knew this was going to happen. We have pages and pages of (material) about that area. We have an interest in life safety, the public’s safety. It’s part of our obligation.”
Curry County plans to hire a code enforcement officer to address such problems but financial constraints have precluded that until next spring.
“I would work with them, but there needs to be some direction and support (of county) codes,” Brazil said Thursday. “Get off the dime and support the people who live there. But there was no clear directive.”
“If we had a code enforcement officer, we could issue a citation,” said Interim County Manager John Hitt, adding a condemnation hearing slated for Jan. 3 was delayed until February.
“It’s a complicated situation,” Hitt said. “The main house is burned. The garage, the outbuilding are not suitable for habitation. Obviously those orders are being ignored. I’m not sure what we can do about people living there.”
Commissioner Tom Huxley said the people must know there are consequences for not heeding the trespassing orders. Commissioner Sue Gold was absent from the meeting.
Cheshire and others pleaded with the board to have the sheriff’s department condemn what’s left of the building and either raze it or burn it down — a move Brazil said he’d be willing to oversee.
County Attorney John Huttl said residents can file citizen’s traffic complaints in regards to vehicular activity there.
“But it’s a tricky proposition,” he said. “Law enforcement can only (issue a citation) if they witness something, or if it’s an accident. It’s difficult for the sheriff unless they actually witness it to get the process going. And that requires some (law enforcement) presence.”
Reach Jane Stebbins at firstname.lastname@example.org.