City of Ypsilanti obtains search warrant to inspect Thompson Block
Ypsilanti city officials secured an administrative search warrant to get an independent engineer access to the Thompson Block building property for an inspection.
City officials say they hired the engineer to inspect the condition and safety of the building, but their requests for access were ignored by developer Stewart Beal, whose Historic Equities Fund 1 LLC owns the building.
City officials also expressed frustration over traffic signs that Beal allowed to be removed from the streets around the building. The city will now have to pay to put its own signs around the property.
The warrant is the latest move in the legal battle between the city and Beal over the fate of the historic structure, damaged in a fire last fall.
Ypsilanti Fire Chief Jon Ichesco said he called Beal on July 1 to request access to the building the next day. Beal directed Ichesco to his attorney, Nora Wright, who Ichesco said didn't return his call or respond to several follow-up e-mails.
The city asked district Judge Kirk Tabbey to sign a search warrant allowing the engineer on the property, which Ichesco said was done on July 7. Assistant City Attorney Karl Barr said the fire prevention code allows for access to structures suspected to be in violation of the code.
On July 8, an Ypsilanti Fire Department aerial truck allowed the engineer to examine the exterior from its bucket, and later that day, the engineer inspected the interior. Barr expects a full report from the engineer sometime in the next week.
City officials said the move was made to ensure the building isn't in danger of collapsing. But officials acknowledged it strengthens their case should the facilitation sessions prove fruitless, and the case heads to trial.
Beal charged the move was in direct violation of Washtenaw County Circuit Judge Donald Shelton’s order that neither party could conduct discovery or prepare for a trial while meeting for facilitation sessions.
Shelton recently ordered the entire City Council to meet with Beal and his legal team on Aug. 10, although Mayor Paul Schreiber and Council Member Pete Murdock will be on vacation.
Beal also said he is upset the city demanded access on such short notice.
“The city has no business hiring an engineer,” he said. “No matter what (the engineer) said, it doesn’t matter because the judge does not appreciate the city’s concerns about safety or the rush to get this thing done.”
Beal added this is why the parties are in facilitation.
The city also said it will have to pay for new signage on Cross and River streets. Department of Public Services Director Stan Kirton said a variety of signs were repossessed by Metro Engineering Solutions, the company that owns them.
Barr said the city filed a motion asking the court to order Beal to put the signs back out. Beal said he told MES he wasn’t going to pay for the signs once the city sued. He said there is no longer an agreement, so he wouldn’t even know which signs to put out in the street.
Tom Perkins is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2530.