Calling it a threat to “public safety” and a “nuisance,” the City of Corbin filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the owners of a ramshackle, abandoned church demanding that it be torn down and cleaned up.
The complaint, filed in Whitley Circuit Court, revolves around a former church building on Laurel Avenue that sits next to one endpoint of the Corbin Creekwalk.
City officials say the church, which has a collapsed roof and is, generally, in a sordid state of disrepair, is an eyesore and has been the point of contention for some time. City Commissioners voted in September to file the suit against the owners of the structure in order to force action. Officials say owners have been contacted in the past, but nothing has been done.
“We needed to start something,” Corbin Building Inspector Frank Burke said. “It’s pretty obvious at this point that the structure is unsafe.”
Named as defendants in the suit are Sandra Sheppard, J.C. Neal, Benny Neal, Charles Neal, Gayle Walters and the estate of Ruby M. Neal. Also, any unknown children of Nina Jean Neal (now deceased) are part of the action.
According to city records, Charles Neal, who is a resident of Corbin, has been contacted on several occasions since 2001 in order to rectify the problem. The building was condemned July 2, 2001. Another condemnation notice was sent to Neal on May 12 this year after the roof collapsed, but it was returned through registered mail as unsigned.
On July 17, Neal offered to sell the property to the city. Nine days later, a prospective buyer contacted city officials and claimed he was buying the building and was going to repair it, but it was never sold.
Burke said Neal promised to take care of the problems on June 2 and again on July 8. A final notice was sent by the city on July 28, but was returned.
The building was acquired by Ruby Neal from Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in June 1986.
The lawsuit claims the building is in violation of city property maintenance ordinances and is asking that the court order the owners to demolish it. If it isn’t demolished, the city is asking for permission to demolish it, then place a lien on the property, and eventually sell the lot to recoup the cost of cleaning it up.
A smaller building in the rear of the church that held several classrooms and two bathrooms is also included in the lawsuit.
City Attorney Bob Hammons said the action would have been filed earlier, but tracking down who actually owned the structure was more difficult than first thought.
Commissioners also voted to file a similar lawsuit against the owners of the old Southeastern Kentucky Baptist Hospital and surrounding property. The hospital, located in Corbin, has been abandoned for 19 years. Entrances to the lower floors were recently blocked off by the Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet because of asbestos contamination in the building. The surrounding property is littered with trash and refuse and hasn’t been mowed since spring. Officials have expressed frustration over the lack of maintenance at the old hospital.
Hammons said more research has to be done before a lawsuit is filed.
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