Judge orders property owner to clean up Belleville 'hole' in 30 days

News-DemocratMay 24, 2013 

A 2012 file photo of the pit that remains after several buildings burned at the corner of East Main Street and Jackson Street in 2010 in Belleville.

STEVE NAGY/BND

— The property owner is responsible for demolition and asbestos cleanup costs for the site of a downtown Belleville fire, according to a court order.

Ronnie Phillips, who owns part of "the hole" at Jackson and Main streets, has 30 days to clean the asbestos on his property, St. Clair County Circuit Judge Vincent Lopinot wrote Tuesday.

It was the demolition of Phillips' building -- and Chester Nance's building at 201 E. Main St. -- after a fire on May 26, 2010, that created "the hole."

If Phillips does not remove the asbestos within 30 days, then the city can hire someone to do the work and bill Phillips, Lopinot said.

Phillips' attorney, Penni Livingston, said Friday that Phillips will comply with the judge's order to clean up the asbestos, which will cost about $45,000, and turn over the check for the cost of demolition.

Phillips will have to discuss sharing cleanup costs with Nance, Livingston said.

"You can't distinguish which property the asbestos came from when you're cleaning up the asbestos," Livingston said. "It's not just Ronnie's responsibility."

However, Livingston said her client plans to appeal Lopinot's decision and ask to recoup all costs. Phillips has 30 days to appeal in appellate court.

Lopinot's order also states that Phillips has to pay for the demolition of his building at 205 E. Main St.

Phillips has to turn over a $47,583 check issued to him by State Farm to pay the excavating business that demolished the building. And, Phillips is responsible for paying the interest on the bill accrued since the check was issued.

The city had asked Hank's Excavating and Landscaping to demolish the buildings as an emergency service. The demolition fee totaled $88,578.

Nance's insurance company has paid for the cost of demolishing his building.

Phillips initially filed a lawsuit against the city saying the city illegally authorized tearing down the buildings and should pay for demolition and cleanup. He argued there would be no asbestos problem if the city did not order demolition without Phillips' permission.

Nance was not named in the lawsuit Phillips filed against the city.

The city has countered that Phillips should pay as much as $972,000 in fines for leaving the exposed asbestos at the site and letting the lot be overgrown with weeds for three years.

In December, Lopinot ruled that Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert had the right to order demolition for safety reasons but did not assess damages.

Eckert said he is happy and respectful of the judge's decision.

"I think the downtown merchants and citizens believe we are long overdue for this to be cleaned up," Eckert said. "I'm ready for this to be cleaned up so we can move on. Downtown is doing so good and it bothers me to see this nuisance there for so long."

The 2010 fire and demolition took down two buildings that contained three businesses: the Classic Curl beauty salon, a mental health center for Chestnut Health Systems and the Hilltop Emporium thrift store.

Investigators said the fire was a case of arson but no one has been charged.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

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