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Ruben given last shot on downtown Augusta buildings

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With Bonnie Ruben a no-show in court Thursday, Richmond County Magistrate Judge H. Scott Allen gave the Augusta businesswoman one last chance to repair a former department store and burned-out nightclub she owns in the downtown historic district.

Allen approved an agreement reached this week to obtain a boarding permit in the next 30 days to “mothball” the two buildings Ruben owns in the 700 and 900 blocks of Broad Street that once housed a J.C. Penney and The Bayou restaurant, which was gutted by fire in June 2001.

Under the terms of the six-month deal, which was crafted under a law passed March 24 in Augusta, Ruben must also have the buildings analyzed to make sure the Penney’s interior and The Bayou’s rear wall are structurally sound and must submit a written statement for each about possible future uses.

With the case set to observe its first anniversary next month, Allen said that if the plan fails, he is going to refer the matter to State Court, possibly for a jury to decide the vacant properties’ fate.

He was upset Thursday that Ruben was not in court, even after her attorney, Bill Trotter, told the judge that he asked her not to attend because the agreement had been reached and the hearing’s notice stated that it was for the purposes of arraignment.

“This court and the city have given (Ruben) every opportunity. All we have been looking for is compliance,” Allen said at the hearing. “Obviously, if she was concerned about this, she would have said, ‘I’ll be here,’ regardless of whether you told her to come.”

The Augusta Planning and Development department opened a case against Ruben on Sept. 24, when senior inspector Larry Lariscy cited her for the Bayou building at 904 Broad St. “not being maintained.”

No further explanation was provided on the ticket, but Lariscy said the roofless building needed its front repainted, its rear entrance secured, its inside cleared of small trees and the rear wall examined by an engineer because of the settling foundation.

On Oct. 22, he issued Ruben a second notice, stating that the old J.C. Penney store at 732 Broad St. was “unfit for commercial, industrial or business use” and that she had 30 days to bring it into compliance with city code by “rehabilitation or demolition.”

Among the violations the inspector listed were a cracked outside wall on the top floor, roof leaks causing interior dampness, windows not being watertight and loose tiles falling from the exterior.

Though many of the issues cited have been addressed, Lariscy said in court that Ruben has not hired an engineer to examine either building and that the city lacks confirmation that The Bayou’s interior was cleaned.

“I’ve already paved the way,” Lariscy told Allen in assuring him a permit will be approved.

Trotter said Ruben plans to repair windows at the old Penney’s building and will immediately apply for a permit to do so. He was uncertain about possible future uses, but Lariscy said extensions can be granted.

“We are actively looking for uses for the two buildings, but we do not have anything that is economically feasible that represents a future plan for the properties,” Trotter said.

Allen said he would not punish Ruben for Trotter’s lapse in judgment but said she could have faced a maximum of 60 days in jail or a $1,000 fine for her absence.

“We certainly didn’t mean to slight the court,” Trotter said after the hearing.

Comments (17) Add comment
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Marinerman1
5253
Points
Marinerman1 08/21/14 - 11:44 am
11
1
Yep, It Is Time To Clean Up

It is time for Ms. Ruben to clean up and pick up. With the economy improving, maybe these buildings will have a new life downtown. We can only hope.

Lori Davis
968
Points
Lori Davis 08/21/14 - 02:32 pm
15
2
Make everybody do it. Not

Make everybody do it. Not just one property owner.

historylover
13655
Points
historylover 08/21/14 - 02:57 pm
8
1
But Lori

she has by far been the most vocal in criticizing other property owners. Not showing up in court was just wrong and I bet she knows that. I do agree with you though, now it's time to make everyone take care of business and their buildings.

GnipGnop
12691
Points
GnipGnop 08/22/14 - 01:49 am
10
2
She followed

The advice of her attorney. The judge, as a lawyer, should know you do what your attorney says. I'm like Lori, punish them all equally. Saying she's getting punished because she's the most vocal sounds like someone else is getting protected...but hey this is Augusta we are talking about.

SRD
469
Points
SRD 08/21/14 - 04:25 pm
5
5
A Target by the Tail

There are run down buildings all over the city of Augusta so why is she being targeted and the larger question is by whom and what do they have to gain? If I were Bonnie I'd take care of business then start a dilapidated building patrol and make sure everyone else has to pay the same price for owning property in the city of Augusta. Seems like she is the target of revenge for someone who was recently fired and perhaps has a few connections in the city.

Pops
12090
Points
Pops 08/21/14 - 04:35 pm
12
3
She swooped in

and bought those buildings years ago at pennies on the dollar, thinking that somehow, some way she was going to unload them for a huge profit......now she does not want to play the game anymore......please do not paint her as a victim.........

SRD
469
Points
SRD 08/21/14 - 04:42 pm
3
7
A Target by the Tail

There are run down buildings all over the city of Augusta so why is she being targeted and the larger question is by whom and what do they have to gain? If I were Bonnie I'd take care of business then start a dilapidated building patrol and make sure everyone else has to pay the same price for owning property in the city of Augusta. Seems like she is the target of revenge for someone who was recently fired and perhaps has a few connections in the city.

raul
5494
Points
raul 08/21/14 - 05:00 pm
8
1
Target all of the buildings

Target all of the buildings that need cleaning up. Nothing will happen as to further development if there are boarded up, dilapidated buildings. I saw on the RC jobs list there are vacancies for code enforcement positions.

Riverman1
89985
Points
Riverman1 08/21/14 - 05:20 pm
6
7
Orchestrated Campaign

The Chronicle series, “Pardon Our Mess,” only featured one private owner. That was Bonnie Ruben. Was it because she is a vocal opponent of the gift of a $38 million convention center and parking garage to the Marriott? Larry Lariscy is obviously a tool in an orchestrated campaign against Ruben. The judge sought to embarrass her in court when there was absolutely no legal reason for her to be there.

just an opinion
2839
Points
just an opinion 08/21/14 - 06:43 pm
5
1
Lawyers- help me out here

So if I'm cited and summoned to court, I can hire representation and not actually have to appear myself?

Little Lamb
47847
Points
Little Lamb 08/21/14 - 07:54 pm
7
2
Appearance

Lawyers speak and appear for clients all the time. The right to "face your accusers" is a right, not a requirement.

Do you think Bill Gates appeared in court every time a lawsuit was filed with his name on it?

just an opinion
2839
Points
just an opinion 08/21/14 - 07:57 pm
4
1
Thanks LL-

I didn't know the law at that one.

ColCo
905
Points
ColCo 08/22/14 - 04:41 am
6
1
The Bayou

burned in 2001. Thirteen years is enough time to repair/restore/demolish a burned out building. Why grant another thirty days when the intent is clear?

soapy_725
43947
Points
soapy_725 08/22/14 - 05:41 am
0
0
a true ARC political figure. make her housing auditor.
Unpublished

she knows all of the slum lords. LOL LOL

hoptoad
18202
Points
hoptoad 08/22/14 - 06:57 am
5
1
There are vacant unsightly

There are vacant unsightly buildings and houses all over Richmond County and even some in Columbia County. Every time a business closes one of the requirements should be to tear down, lease, or sell the structure within a reasonable amount of time, fines and jail time if necessary and confiscation.

Perhaps new businesses moving to our area should be offered an existing structure with a tax-reduced or tax-free status for 5 years, or tax breaks on purchases and labor needed to rehabilitate the structure. It's wonderful that we have sporting goods stores, Costco, etc. moving here but each has built their own building and what happens if they are forced to close - another empty eyesore.

Augusta is supposed to be a "Garden City", let's not turn it into one that looks like Detroit.

corgimom
36378
Points
corgimom 08/22/14 - 07:04 am
3
2
RC has to start somewhere,

RC has to start somewhere, and she needs to demolish those buildings. Nobody wants them, and they are fire traps.

historylover
13655
Points
historylover 08/22/14 - 09:23 am
2
1
Hoptoad

Really good idea! We sure need to do something. Has anyone seen the old jail on 9th Street recently? It too is in terrible and sadly tear down shape. Not that I have a love for the old jail, but for those of us who grew up here, it was certainly a landmark.

As for "picking" on Bonnie Ruben, I agree with Corgi. Something has to be done and we have to start somewhere. Hopefully actually enforcing action by her will start the ball rolling.

Dixieman
16475
Points
Dixieman 08/22/14 - 09:28 am
3
1
It depends

Criminal cases you have to be there. Civil suits usually you do not have to be there if you have an attorney there to represent you. Usually. I agree that here the judge is just posturing for the cameras.

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