BELLEVILLE — The city says the owner of a downtown site destroyed by a fire two years ago has received more than $400,000 in insurance money but refuses to clean up the asbestos and the hole left behind.
The city asked a judge to force Ronnie Phillips to pay for demolition and debris removal at his lots, or pay for the city to do so, according to a motion filed Thursday in a counterclaim to Phillips' lawsuit against the city.
But Penni Livingston, the attorney for Phillips, said the money Phillips received from State Farm does not fully compensate him for the loss of his building, which she said was worth $1 million.
The site now has a large hole, which the city considers a dangerous eyesore.
Livingston maintains the city unlawfully tore down Phillips' commercial building at Jackson and East Main streets after the fire in May 2010. She also argues the city demolished his property without a required 15-day notice and response period, a court order and notification to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
Within hours of the fire on May 26, 2010, Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert hired Hank's Excavating and Landscaping to tear down two buildings.
The buildings contained three businesses -- the Classic Curl beauty salon, a Chestnut Health Systems mental health center and the Hilltop Emporium thrift shop. The latter two businesses were in Phillips' building.
In its motion, the city argues that Phillips refuses to clean up the property "despite being issued over $400,000 in insurance proceeds that included costs for further demolition and debris-removal expenses."
Phillips, in his suit against the city, is seeking compensation of $3,500 per month in lost rent until the building is rebuilt and occupied. The city said the building was uninhabitable from the fire.
Attorney Julie Bruch, who represents the city, said the Illinois Municipal Code gives Belleville the right to remove a dangerous structure and recover the costs from the property owner.
The state code also allows Belleville to remove the asbestos and ask Phillips to pay for it. The city, in its court filings, says it hasn't taken action to clean the site because city leaders have reason to believe Phillips will not repay them.
"Belleville has resisted taking such measures because of the bad faith Phillips has shown by refusing to endorse his check to Belleville in order to pay Hank's invoice," the city argues in one motion.
Last year, State Farm wrote a $47,583 check to Phillips and the city, to pay for part of Hank's demolition fee, which totaled $88,578.
Hank's has not been paid because Phillips has not endorsed the check.
Livingston said the city is not entitled to the money, and Phillips' former attorney erred when he told the city Phillips would share the check.
Livingston made another offer that city leaders refused: Phillips would give the city the check for demolition costs if the city agreed to split the asbestos remediation bid of $42,000 four ways among Phillips, the city, Hank's and Chester Nance, the owner of the other property that burned.
Nance, who owns the property that housed the beauty salon, has not filed a lawsuit. But he has said that he only gave the city verbal permission to tear down a wall, not the entire structure, and the city acted too soon.
The state has cited the city, the two property owners and Hank's for allowing asbestos into the air and not notifying IEPA of the demolition. The IEPA has also threatened to send the case to the Illinois attorney general if the asbestos is not cleaned up.
The next court appearance for Phillips' case against the city is scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 28. Phillips has requested a jury trial in the lawsuit.
Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.