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The Daily Astorian: Court Deadline Looms For Flavel Family

daily_astorian | Dec. 11, 2013 5:33 a.m. | Updated: Dec. 12, 2013 10:12 a.m. | Astoria, Oregon

Contributed By:

Chelsea Gorrow

She’s been fined $5.6 million.

And on Monday, she’s expected in court.

But that hasn’t stopped Mary Louise Flavel from seemingly ignoring the city of Astoria’s demands to fix up her property. Now, she is in danger of losing the house to public auction,

“Our problem before was that we were not able to make official legal contact with Miss Flavel. When we’d sent citations before, we were not able to locate her,” Community Development Director Brett Estes said. But that changed when The Daily Astorian found her in July. After that, Estes said a few anonymous callers began tipping off the city where Flavel could be located.

“And so the next steps that were taken were to be able to calculate up all of the vacant building fees, and also a violation amount, for all three properties, based upon the derelict buildings ordinance and to provide the citation to Miss Flavel which is what happened the week of Thanksgiving.”

From leaking roofs, to cracked and falling facade work, the empty commercial properties on the 900 block of Commercial Street are crumbling, with the exception of one space, occupied by the restaurant Drina Daisy. The 15th Street and Franklin Avenue Flavel residence was in even worse condition until the city entered it in June 2012 to secure it from transient break-ins, fire hazards and roof leaks.

Both City Building Inspector Jack Applegate and City Planner Rosemary Johnson said at the time that the house was in better shape than they had expected.

“I believe it’s salvageable,” Applegate said. “Absolutely.”

The home provided a peek at the life of the Flavel family - Mary Louise, 88, brother Harry and mother Florence. Both Florence and Harry have passed away. The residence was filled with newspapers, magazines, self-help books and other hoarded materials. A dog’s body was also discovered in the refrigerator. The city tarped the roof, turned off the electricity and cut the yard’s vegetation, because each posed a fire hazard. Doors and windows were boarded up.

“After the house was entered, we did the work and a lien was filed,” Estes said. The work totaled almost $8,000. “And then there are the vacant building fees that come into play, as part of the derelict building ordinance.”

At the end of 2012, he added, Flavel was provided a notice of the derelict building fees in the total of approximately $1,500 for that window of time.

In January, those too were filed as a lien. Gary Blacklidge of the Greene & Markley firm in Portland, Flavel’s lawyer had previously told the city he did not represent her any longer, but responded soon after, asking for the city’s patience as Flavel came up with a game plan. He also asked if there were any grants or city assistance available to help with the properties. But after Astoria City Attorney Blair Henningsgaard told them no funding was available, no plan or further communication has been presented.

“We waited, we were patient, and we heard nothing,” Estes said. “So now, with no response, it’s time to be able to go and issue citations. In this case, the City Council has been wanting to be able to get this issue solved. The process is working to get us to this point. What happens next, we need to wait and see what Miss Flavel and her attorney do in response to these citations.”

Now, the city hopes the multimillion dollar fine will get Flavel’s attention.

The fines, broken down

Inspector Applegate said there are literally dozens of violations for each of the commercial buildings and for the house. The ordinance allows the fines to accumulate up to $1,000 per day, which is doubled when it becomes a “chronic nuisance.”

“With no attention being paid to these buildings, they are only getting worse and worse,” Estes added.

For three violations per building - for $2,000 per day, for 316 days - the fine totals $5.6 million. Astoria Municipal Court Judge Kris Kaino will make the judgment.

“I think this is a really fair process,” Applegate said. “It’s really a tiered approach where we start out by simply stopping by and asking someone to make these corrections or repairs or to take care of their vacant building and make it look nice for their adjacent property owners. And there are necessary steps that follow and each is a little bit more severe of an action than the last one. Ultimately, the goal is to get compliance.”

If Flavel was at the table, it would be possible to stop the process, Applegate added. “But I think as this has gone on so long, and we’ve actually been in the situation where we know she’s been trying to avoid being contacted by the city, we’ve stepped up the enforcement more and that’s why we’re at this stage that we’re at.”

Court

If Flavel does not show up in court Monday, the court can rule in favor of the city. If that happens, the fine can be reduced from the $5.6 million, or kept as is, and the ruling would allow the city to move ahead.

“With these proceedings, all we can get if she doesn’t comply, is a money judgment against her,” City Attorney Blair Henningsgaard said. “The process to enforce that money judgment requires that a sheriff’s sale be conducted.”

Henningsgaard said if that occurs, there will be advertisements for the event and anyone who wants to bid can bid on the properties. However, Henningsgaard noted, it isn’t as simple as it seems.

“After the sale, (Flavel) will have 180 days to redeem the property, by paying the purchaser back what they paid, and some interest and fees,” he said. “But after that redemption period is over, the purchaser will receive a sheriff’s deed.

“There is a caveat to that. There are other judgments and liens on the properties. Buying that property, the liens come with it.”

A sale of the properties has happened before, but at the last minute the Flavels have come through, redeeming the debt at the final moment.

But that doesn’t mean the city will receive $5.6 million for the Flavel properties, Estes said. And the city doesn’t expect that much to come rolling in.

Any work done on the property, for example, can be applied to the fines. Compliance is the goal.

“This is the process that we have, and to be able to move forward with the derelict building ordinance we have to take one step at a time,” Estes said. “Right now, we have to just wait and see if she will pay the fines, if she will plead not guilty, or not respond. …

“I don’t want to speculate but it’s one of those things that we have not seen Mary Louise provide any payment for fines in the past. And that doesn’t mean that she wouldn’t now, but if past history follows suit, I wouldn’t expect it.”

Applegate added, “the goal is compliance. And I think it’s more likely that whoever ends up owning and repairing the property, whether it’s Mary Louise or someone else, the city will reduce the fines as the work is done on it.”

This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.

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