Belleville still seeking fines for 'hole' at downtown fire site

News-DemocratAugust 26, 2013 

A pedestrian walks past 'the hole' on East Main Street in this BND file photo.

ZIA NIZAMI — znizami@bnd.com Buy Photo

— The city of Belleville continued Monday to seek fines from the owner of a downtown fire site for nuisance violations.

The city won a case earlier this year that said the property owner, Ronnie Phillips, is responsible for demolition and cleanup of the "hole" at East Main and Jackson streets. Phillips is appealing the ruling.

Now the city is asking in a separate lawsuit, filed in January, for Phillips to be fined $250 to $1,000 per day, from June 2, 2010, for nuisances at 205 E. Main St.

The city's code states it is a nuisance to have "any pit, hole or excavation dangerous to the public" and to have health or safety hazards across sidewalks, streets and alleys.

It could, however, be two months before St. Clair County Circuit Judge Stephen P. McGlynn decides on the request for fines.

At a Monday hearing, Belleville City Attorney Garrett Hoerner asked to include the adjacent property owner, Chester Nance, in the lawsuit. Nance owns the property at 201 E. Main St.

Hoerner has 21 days to file the amendment and then Phillips' attorney, Penni Livingston, has 30 days to respond.

Livingston asked McGlynn to dismiss the case against Phillips because issues in the case were already decided in May in a separate lawsuit.

"They're taking a second bite at the apple," Livingston said.

In May, St. Clair County Circuit Judge Vincent Lopinot ruled in the city's favor. Phillips sued the city for illegally demolishing his buildings without notice. Lopinot said the city could demolish the buildings after the May 26, 2010 fire for public safety.

Per Lopinot's order, Phillips had 30 days to clean the asbestos and grade the site or else the city could hire a contractor to do the work and bill Phillips.

Hoerner said Monday the lawsuit that concluded in May is not identical to the one before McGlynn. The issue of assessing fines for the nuisance violations was not addressed in the case before Lopinot, he said.

After a series of extensions from the city since May, Phillips has not hired a contractor to clear and grade his property. The city eventually said that if Phillips and Nance did not agree on a contractor by Aug. 9, then the city would intervene in the cleanup.

On Aug. 19, the city issued Nance four citations for having weeds at the site more than 8 inches high. If Nance is in violation, the city could access his property for cleanup. Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

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