Judge orders owner to repair one of Rogersville's oldest buildings

Jeff Bobo • Apr 13, 2018 at 5:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — The owner of one of Rogersville's oldest buildings has until Sept. 1 to bring the structure up to code, or the city might make the necessary repairs and impose the cost on a property tax lien.

The “Powell Law Office”, named for the former Congressman who practiced law there in the early 1800s, is the first historical Rogersville structure to be impacted by the city's new Slum Ordinance, which was approved by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen last year.

The current owner, listed as OMG Enterprises, Inc. of Chattanooga, failed to show up for a Rogersville Municipal Court hearing last month to answer charges that the structure located at 128 Washington Street is a fire hazard and is "unfit for human habitation" for a long list of reasons.

The Rogersville's Slum Ordinance states that the city can force property owners to repair dilapidated historic structures if the building inspector determines that a historic structure can be repaired and made fit for human habitation for less than 50 percent of the structure's value.

On March 1 Rogersville Municipal Judge Kevin Keeton signed an order stating that the owner has six months to bring the building up to code.

What’s the history of the Powell Law Office

The Powell Law Office on Washington Street reportedly dates to the late 1700 but was named for Samuel Powell, who arrived in Rogersville in 1805. He practiced law, served as a judge and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for the 1815-17 term.

Powell chose not to seek a second term in Congress and resumed his Rogersville law practice in 1819.

Shortly after his return he occupied what’s known today as the Powell Law Office, the two-story structure is located on Washington Street just west of the Depot Street intersection, and kitty-corner from the Hawkins County Courthouse.

Powell died in 1841 and is buried next door to his law office in the old Presbyterian Church Cemetery.

The building was most recently a locksmith shop, but it’s been vacant and a slowly deteriorating eyesore for decades.

There was a hearing in Rogersville Municipal Court

The entire lot measures only 924 square feet, and the house takes up a little more than half of that. The county appraisal for 2018 lists its value at $17,800.

Building inspector Steve Nelson testified in Municipal Court that the Powell Law Office has enhanced value due to its historical significance, and can be repaired for less than 50 percent of its value.

City Attorney Bill Phillips told the Times News Thursday that if OMG Enterprises doesn't comply with Keeton's order, the town can repair the building itself, and attach a tax lien on the property for the cost.

If that happened, and the owner didn’t pay, Rogersville could petition Chancery Court to order the property sold. Under that circumstance the town could bid on it, and it could become a municipal building, Phillips noted.

Anyone who owns the Powell Law Office is prohibited from tearing it down. Not only is it protected by the Rogersville Historical Commission, it is also part of the National Registry of Historical Places with all of downtown Rogersville.

“I can’t answer for what the company that owns the property will do,” Phillips said. “We served process on them, and they didn’t show up to court. Eventually they will either have to repair the property, or pay the lien if we do the repairs, or do nothing. If they do nothing, eventually we will ask the court sell the property to satisfy the lien.”

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