Atlanta, Illinois — citing its wish to keep its town attractive to Route 66 tourists — has levied fines totaling over $100,000 each to two property owners it says violated ordinances.
The Bloomington Pantagraph reported Mark Armstrong of Choctaw, Oklahoma, is dealing with a total of $112,500 in fines for his alleged failure to repair a building at 205 S.E. Race St., once a bar owned by his parents.
Jeffery Jorden, who owns a home at 305 S.W. Second St. in Atlanta, owes $124,585 for allegedly letting unlicensed vehicles, tall grass and garbage collect at his property.
The mayor defended the steep fines:
Mayor Fred Finchum […] said the city’s success in making Atlanta a showcase along Route 66 justifies the efforts to keep the city an attractive place to live and visit.
“We have one of the best pieces of property along Route 66. We’ve done a lot to attract people here to spend a dollar,” said Finchum, mayor since 2008.
In the last decade or so, Atlanta developed into a Route 66 destination because of its restoration of the historic Palms Grill Cafe, a Muffler Man that once stood at a Route 66 restaurant near Chicago, a couple of museums and a lot of old-school, small-town charm.
Tired of fighting the city for three years, Armstrong offered to deed the 1862 building to the city to drop the fine. The city countered with a reduced fine of $25,000 and having Armstrong finish renovations of the building. Armstrong says he doesn’t have the money to pay either fine.
Testimony is scheduled for a Sept. 23 hearing from an engineer who will inspect the work Armstrong did on a front wall deemed unsafe by the city. Armstrong will testify that day as well.
More details from the newspaper:
Armstrong’s issues with the city began in August 2013 when a potential buyer for the building asked a contractor to inspect the property. That report, which found structural deficiencies, was shown to an adjoining property owner and turned over to the city.
An engineering report prepared on Armstrong’s behalf found the building to be salvageable with repairs needed to the exterior wall facing the sidewalk.
The city notified Armstrong that he would be fined $250 per day if the repairs were not addressed. Starting on Sept. 13, 2014, and continuing for 451 days until the conclusion of a trial in Logan County Circuit Court, the city fined Armstrong $250 a day for what it considered unsatisfactory progress on the repairs.
Associate Judge Thomas W. Funk ruled the fines were proper and Armstrong was ordered to pay them. The 4th District Appellate Court upheld that decision in May.
But Armstrong argues the city has been unreasonable in its approach to the building and violated its own ordinance by failing to conduct an inspection until the start of the trial.
The Jorden property sounds like a simple case of a chronic nuisance. A Google Street View image of that address from August 2013 reveals a house surrounded by seven vehicles. The man’s lawyer says his health is too poor to pay the fine and may appeal.
Citing Route 66 for the Jorden property seems specious. It’s two blocks and across the railroad tracks from Arch Street (aka Route 66). It sits, however, near the J.H. Hawes Grain Elevator and Museum.
Armstrong’s building stands just a half-block west of Arch Street, easily visible to Route 66 travelers and next to a small park on the route.
Still, a small town levying fines of more than $100,000 to alleged code violators probably would make many people queasy. I’m hard-pressed to think of any city levying fines that high except for the most egregious or negligent property owners. It makes one wonder whether Atlanta faces a money crunch or is trying something sinister.
(Image in 2011 of the side exterior wall of Armstrong’s property in Atlanta, Illinois, by Mural and Art Sign Museum via Flickr)