Similar to other dilapidated projects in the city, Development Services Coordinator Angie Carrier said the Model Mill was given some leniency while under contract with Evolve Development, a North Carolina company which planned to demolish the century-old mill and build multi-family housing units.
“The mill was under a plan for demolition, then there was a lawsuit involved and it’s just recently been released from that contract,” Carrier said Thursday. “It’s to the point now that the lawsuit’s been removed, it’s not under a specific contract and (the Chamber is) going to have to start meeting certain issues, like boarding up doors and broken windows, those types of things.”
The concern with the specific building codes mentioned by Carrier is that entry points into vacant buildings could encourage squatters or other trespassers and might allow animal infestations.
Carrier said the city has heard reports of vagrants camping in the building in the past, and has recently spoken informally with the Chamber of Commerce urging certain issues be addressed.
Chamber President and CEO Gary Mabrey said, as it has in the 8 years the organization has owned the mill property, the Chamber will work to ensure the empty property is as safe as possible.
“We stepped up efforts when we bought that building,” he said. “We’ve boarded and reboarded entry points a number of times through the years. Just recently, I did a walkthrough of the property, and we’re getting plywood and two-by-fours to winterize it, which will mean securing and closing all doors and welding up all that we can.”
With a beckoning white canvas seen from many points in the immediate area, evidence of trespass by vandals with spray paint is hard to miss. Mabrey said he and Johnson City police officers have escorted squatters from the building.
“I think it’s more than tough. If someone wants in, they will find a way in,” he said. “The building and the property are posted with ’No trespassing’ signs, but people have gone in on their own and flattened and destroyed things.”
The structure of the building is intact, but Mabrey said entry is unsafe. Painting graffiti is illegal, he said, and those needing a place to stay for the night should patronize one of Johnson City’s homeless shelters.
Mowing and vegetation control at the property is conducted by a prisoner-staffed cleanup crew provided by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
Carrier said if the issues are not addressed, after allowing some time for the scale of the large building, codes enforcement officers will treat the property like any other in the city, which means citations and other orders.