Neighbors await demo news eight months after destructive fire

Neighbors await demo news eight months after destructive fire

Caroline Kendall woke to smoke and flames outside her bedroom window about 3 a.m. on August 3, 2021.

She and her husband Mark Kendall still live with a charred, two-story house next door at 1829 Powell Pl. that looks like the remnants of a bombed-out home.

The Jacksonville Fire-Rescue Department found the historic 2608-square-foot two-story residence last sold in 2001 for $309,500 in flames with “heavy fire showing,” a related JFRD incident report reads.

“Within a minute of arrival, the front porch roof collapsed resulting in a fire ball that traveled into the second floor and attic space,” reads the comments section.

The department determined the fire began in a front sunroom and summoned the state fire marshal’s office to investigate the blaze as potentially suspicious in nature. It was unoccupied at the time of the two-alarm fire.

Ms. Kendall said the house was vacant and likely under renovations due to the demolition dumpster parked outside for several weeks before the blaze, though neighbors told her it had been there for years before they moved in just before Independence Day in 2020.

One of the property’s owners, Ethan Todd, was recently released from prison after more than three years for lewd and lascivious molestation of a minor. He’s now a registered sex offender residing on West Bay Street downtown, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s database.

“I did not receive notice of the municipal lien issues until last month,” said Patricia Todd by email March 21. “I am now in contact with the officer for the city.

“At this point, we do intend to demolish the house.  There was a delay in dealing with the property as I worked out issues with the insurance company.  I do not have the demolition scheduled as yet but I am working toward it.”

The burned Powell Place house and associated property are the subject of ongoing code enforcement action by the City of Jacksonville with demolition favored by neighbors as well. A public hearing in January included comments from them but the property owner was not present or represented, Ms. Kendall said.

The months of delay have neighbors growing ever more frustrated. Neighbor Laurie Thakkar followed up with Councilwoman Randy DeFoor’s office in early February to inquire if the property owner had been reached by the city, setting off an email chain with the Special Magistrate in the case, who asked that inquiries go to city code compliance staff.

“I am very concerned [the house] is going to collapse any day now and could harm nearby homes and/or neighbors,” said Ms. Thakkar by email February 8. “We have been patiently waiting since August for this property to be torn down.
It is not only depreciating our homes, but is a clear and
present danger.”

City code compliance staff said March 21 the office only recently received the case and the next public hearing date had not been determined.

For the last eight months, Ms. Kendall has been waiting for the home to be demolished by the city following more than 20 code enforcement complaints.

The Kendalls feel like they’re in limbo, like their property values are dropping and their peace on a short dead-end street leading to the St. Johns River is gone, as pedestrians and other gawkers take in the damage.

Three weeks before the fire, recalls Ms. Kendall, there was a “pod” storage container at the home.

“We never saw any neighbors so we thought maybe they’re moving out … We’re feeling like we found our forever home on a beautiful street in a lovely neighborhood and everyone’s so nice … And it’s like what?” she said.

Last month she read one of the many notices on the front door: “It says unsafe to proceed, hearing March 24. Then I heard this morning, they want to give the homeowners due time … These people have been negligent, MIA, no response … They keep pushing it back, delaying it … The city.”

Her husband noticed a pattern. Many homes in the neighborhood need demolition, “and they just sit on them forever,” said Mr. Kendall.

“We have RAP [Riverside Avondale Preservation] support for demolition,” added Ms. Kendall. “I talked to RAP and they say it’s up to the city and I talk to the city they say it’s up to RAP … They keep pushing paper.”

The state fire marshal’s office did not respond to a request for information on its arson investigation after the Jacksonville Fire-Rescue Department referred The Resident News to the state agency headed by Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s Chief Finacial Officer.

“The second-hottest real estate market in all of the United States, Jacksonville … and we’re allowing this? What? This is a valuable lot … River adjacent. Everyone else’s house as you can see is in pristine condition. We have a beautiful historic society. This is beyond repair. It’s disgusting …” said a frustrated Ms. Kendall.

By Joel Addington
Resident Community News

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