A vacant building owned by Ohio Sen. Chris Widener in downtown Xenia has been deemed unsafe by city officials.
The decision to ban occupancy in the former JC Penney building, 45 E. Main St., came after officials inspected the outside of the structure on Jan. 10, according to emails, letters sent to Widener and inspection reports obtained by the newspaper this week.
The inspection is one of a series of checks the city began performing in 2013 as part of its more aggressive efforts to tackle deteriorating and unsafe buildings and revitalize the city.
“Essentially, it’s an effort by the city to ensure the public safety with respect to the downtown buildings and to look at opportunities for revitalization and rehabilitation in order to improve their marketability and basically to spruce up the downtown as well,” said Brent Merriman, Xenia assistant city manager.
During 2013, nine of the 59 buildings inspected had violations, according to city documents. Of the nine with violations, the building owned by Widener is the only one that required “immediate safety measures,” Merriman said.
Widener, a Republican, holds the second-highest ranking position in the Ohio Senate.
In a written response to questions from the newspaper, Widener said he had structural engineers review the building on Wednesday, and they found the building to be safe.
“We have already hired contractors to complete exterior maintenance work on the building,” Widener said in the written response. “Notice of our engineer’s preliminary evaluation was provided to the city today as well.”
The 7,536 square-foot-structure was purchased in 1998 for $100,000 by Widener, according to Greene County property records.
Signs and barriers were placed around the building following a Jan. 10 inspection that included Xenia planning and zoning, code enforcement and fire employees. A representative for Widener also was there, but did not have a key to the building leaving workers to inspect the outside of the building, according to city documents. Workers have cordoned off an area to the rear of the building as a safety zone, the city documents state.
The city found two Ohio Building Code violations. According to the documents, the Widener property was in imminent danger of an outside wall collapsing and the owner failed to maintain the building in a safe and sanitary condition. The documents show specific problems with the building that include:
- The southern wall in the rear of the building shows signs of imminent collapse;
- Loose masonry on the northern wall in the front of the building shows signs of falling to the street endangering the public;
- Large pieces of window pane are in danger of falling endangering the public.
As a result of the inspection, Xenia Fire Captain Brian Brennaman sent a letter to Widener, this week, outlining the building violations. The letter also orders Widener to “remedy conditions” within seven days.
The Jan. 13 letter also references a July 24, 2013, fire inspection of the building which resulted in violations. The department unsuccessfully attempted to contact Widener multiple times to arrange access to the building to determine if the violations had been corrected, according to the letter. Brennaman states that if arrangements are not made within 14 days, the department will ask for a administrative warrant to search the property.
Before the inspection this month, a Xenia code enforcement officer sent Widener a letter dated Dec. 20, 2013, stating the building violated the Imminent Danger Ordinance and noting problems with the rear part of the building. The letter says Widener has until Jan. 21 to install safeguards in the rear of the building.
Widener, who founded WDC Group, LLC — a Springfield based architecture firm — said he or a representative has contacted the city to meet and review the engineering evaluation.
“We plan to continue renovating the building for a new tenant to add to the new roof and interior renovations we have already completed which have totaled more than $80,000 to date,” Widener wrote.
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