When it comes to building inspections, the No. 1 priority is public safety. Nothing – not inconvenience to residents, lost revenues for businesses or expense to property owners – is more important
If city building inspectors find asbestos, or suspect the floor could collapse, or that there are unsanitary conditions such as mold growing around food served to the public, they have an obligation to immediately close a building or business to the public until the problems are fixed.
That’s what was found in a recent surprise inspection of buildings at 142 to 156 E. Lincoln Highway on Friday in downtown DeKalb. As a result, two buildings were partially condemned, and businesses including Lord Stanley’s, Lord Stanley’s Annex, Common Grounds coffee shop, and World Famous Pizza were closed over the weekend.
That’s not the desired outcome, but the city cannot look the other way when it comes to health and safety risks. The public demands restaurants observe sanitation standards, buildings open to the public be structurally sound, and common areas of apartment buildings be fire safe – including being equipped with smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.
All of this was found lacking in the buildings the city condemned Friday.
Those who want downtown buildings preserved should applaud the city for getting strict on code enforcement. We’ve seen what comes of the city looking the other way as building maintenance is neglected. The former Otto’s building was allowed to deteriorate so badly that by the time it was thoroughly inspected after a sprinkler pipe burst in January 2014, there were so many problems it was cheaper to demolish the building than to repair it.
The city then had to provide $3 million in tax increment financing funds to developer John Pappas to build something new in the space. The new building will be an upgrade, but there has been a huge hole in the gateway to downtown DeKalb for more than four years.
However, the city should have timed and coordinated its actions better in this case. Late Friday afternoon is probably the worst time to shutter downtown businesses and warn several apartment-dwellers that, come Monday, they could be next. Building owners complained they did not receive a detailed inspection report until Monday, days after their buildings had been condemned.
City officials also have said they were dismayed by the amount of misinformation spread. To counteract that, next time a downtown business is shuttered, the city should put out a news release telling the public what is going on, why and what will happen next. In an information vacuum, people fill the void with all manner of speculation.
Lord Stanley’s reopened Tuesday, and we hope those businesses that remain closed will reopen soon. We also hope any other building owners who might have been putting off necessary maintenance will take this as a cue to take action now – before the inspectors come knocking.