Troubled mansion under repairs

July 5, 2013
By

SUMNER HILL—A decaying and vacant mansion at 28 Alveston St. is undergoing repairs, though neighbors remain unhappy at how fast they are happening.

The house used to belong to Ellen Robinson until her death last year. Christopher Robinson, the representative of her estate, is her nephew and is heading the property’s cleanup. The house is still legally owned by the estate, according to the city’s Assessment Department.

Robinson’s intentions are to make immediate repairs to the house, said Laurie McKeown, his attorney. According to her, Robinson grew up in the house and has not yet decided whether to move back in or sell the property after repairs are complete.

“It’ll either be fixed or it’ll be sold. I don’t know which one,” she said at a June 5 Problem Properties Committee (PPC) meeting. “My client has done a Herculean task in cleaning that property.”

Robinson works full-time, McKeown said, and is working through at least three generations’ worth of possessions left in the house.

“I think that the progress that is being made is not being appreciated,” she said. “It’s not apparent from the outside, and it’s not happening as fast as people would like it to be, [but] he’s been going at it as much as he can.”

“It’s not surprising to me that people don’t’ have any more trust or patience. In the end, eventually, the house will be fixed up,” she said, noting that the roof, chimney and exterior of the house are Robinson’s priorities.

At that PPC meeting, several neighbors expressed their concerns with the condition of the house, including saying that they had recently seen raccoons on the property and were worried about it potentially being a fire hazard.

According to McKeown, the property is insured against fire damage to other homes and the property was treated for a raccoon infestation in the spring.

According to Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) spokesperson Lisa Pollack, the house started undergoing foreclosure proceedings in December 2011 for unpaid property taxes, but the family redeemed the property before the foreclosure proceedings were completed.

The house, which was purchased in 1988 from the City, must also remain owner-occupied to maintain an affordability covenant with the City, a consequence of that purchase. It cannot be sold for more than a City-determined price of $412,821.81. That 30-year covenant expires in 2018.

However, that requirement can be waived if the house is undergoing major repairs, Pollack said.

“It is our understanding that the building has not yet been brought up to code, which would supersede the affordability covenant. The safety of occupants always comes first,” she told the Gazette in an email this week. “We would have expected [the family] to have either pulled the necessary permits by now, or to have placed the property on the market for sale. We will be contacting the family to better understand their plans for this building.”

It is unclear how an estate-owned property can be owner-occupied.

The property has been in disrepair for several years, with the mansion’s paint peeled off, weather-tattered tarps covering parts of the roof, the lawn overgrown, and old cars with flat tires in the driveway. The cars have since been removed and the lawn has been trimmed.

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