"It's beyond strange."
That's how Kent Board of Zoning Appeals member Steve Balazs described an appeal by a Kent property owner to a city order to demolish his house at 509 Franklin Avenue following a fire, squatting and eventual condemnation of the property.
The zoning board listened Monday as Caven McLoughlin, the owner of the house, and his attorney Diana Prehn argued that the city should reverse a condemnation ruling on the property that put the building on track for demolition.
"Reasonable time is all I ask," McLoughlin said. "It’s always been the intent to bring it to the point where it would be suitable for other residents."
The problems at McLoughlin's property started when the neighboring building, owned by John Spindler and his mother, Dorothy, caught fire in April 2007. The fire spread to McLoughlin's property causing damage to the exterior.
City officials say the house was left damaged, including a hole in the roof that left the interior open to the elements, until January 2011 when McLoughlin pulled construction permits from the city to make repairs.
McLoughlin and Prehn argued at Monday's meeting that the Spindlers, whose property is only nine inches away from his house, refused to let him put ladders on their property so contractors could reach the roof for repairs, and that issue delayed the work.
Portage County Clerk of Court records show McLoughlin obtained a court order in November 2010 to access the Spindlers' land so he could repair the exterior — about nine months after the city started court proceedings to demolish the house.
Bridget Susel, director of Kent's Community Development Department, said the water has been shut off to the house since 2011, it has no electric service and was condemend by a city building official for multiple other building code violations in 2009.
"Our records show it has been vacant since the fire," she said. "This property is still not in a condition where it can be occupied."
Further complicating the status of the house has been an eviction case McLoughlin filed against the neighboring Spindlers.
A Portage County magistrate issued an eviction notice against the Spindlers April 8 giving them three days to vacate McLoughlin's property.
Prehn and McLoughlin argued that the Spindlers had been squatting in the house for at least the last eight months and using it for storage for their business, Home Place Used Goods, at 501 Franklin Ave.
John Spindler, who attended Monday's meeting, pleaded no contest to aggravated trespassing charges in January for trespassing at the property.
Spindler admitted Monday to accessing the house, but he said he only did so because he was trying to keep it secure and free of rodents.
"Mr. McLoughlin does not keep this (house) up," Spindler said. "I felt entitled to use it because I had been taking care of it for six years. This is not Mr. McLoughlin’s home. This property is a rental, which he has rented to many kids."
Prehn said Spindler trespassed because he wants the property outright.
"When the trespasser was actually caught, he was changing the locks on the (house)," Prehn said.
Zoning board chairperson Elizabeth Howard said Monday she was unsatisfied with the conflicting timeline of events presented by the city and McLoughlin and asked them both to present clear dates for activities at the house including tenant occupation, building permit issues and other events.
Specifically, Howard was critical of the lengthy time period between the fire and the effort to repair the house.
"I can see that relations with your neighbor are not good," Howard told McLoughlin. "Even so, the amount of time passing between one event and the next event is confusing to me."
The zoning board voted Monday to table their vote on the demolition appeal until May when McLoughlin and city officials can present a clearer timeline of events at the property.
"It’s a very volatile situation," zoning board member Diane Werner said. "I could see this taking a while."
Several neighbors attended Monday's meeting and encouraged the demolition.
"It’s been a vexation and an annoyance," neighbor Jay Plymaile said.
"This house has always been a dump," Dan Cieplinski said.