EBCI looks to clear ‘nuisance buildings’ from Cherokee

by Sep 1, 2022NEWS ka-no-he-da0 comments


One Feather Staff


The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) now has the ability to abate and demolish ‘nuisance buildings’ on the Qualla Boundary.

Resolution No. 341 (2022) was passed by Tribal Council this July, opening the door to this process. This created a $150,000 line item for the General Fund of the EBCI for the purpose of abatement and demolition of commercial buildings deemed a ‘nuisance’. Buildings could be added to this list if they are dilapidated or being neglected and used for illegal activity.

The process for this action would go through multiple departments, and that meant that perspectives were shared from many different areas of the Tribe. This resolution involves Tribal Operations, the Finance Office, Attorney General’s office, Cherokee Indian Police Department, and EBCI Public Health and Human Services (PHHS).

Vickie Bradley, secretary of PHHS, said that the programs have been having these conversations for some time.

“This initiative started a little over a year ago with the enactment of public health law 130. Then section 145 from environmental. Because we had so many complaints about public nuisance properties. So, we put together a multifaceted team to see what we could do,” said Bradley.

Michael McConnell, EBCI attorney general, offered some explanation to Council.

“The 150,000 that is requested here is requested because there is not currently a budgeted amount for this. And this might not go to demolition … the hope is that we can say ‘if you agree, then we can help you’. Rather than go through a long, potentially contentious process,” said McConnell

“The cost is as much for assessment and abatement. Say there’s an old building that has asbestos in it. We need to find that out to go to the next step of ‘who’s going to pay for that?’ We are focusing, in this effort, on properties that are the most visible to Tribal members and others who are in the main business district.”

Cory Blankenship, secretary of Finance, gave more insight into the process.

“In some instances, there are grant dollars that are available that the Tribe could apply for in order to take these buildings down. In this case, we’re committing Tribal dollars to offer a similar program. It’s essentially a grant to that property owner to take that building down,” said Blankenship.

“We are targeting buildings where there are drug issues. Where there is a high call volume to police and EMS for services because these properties are being utilized for those types of activities. There’s a list with a working group from Public Health and Human Services, Office of Environmental and Natural Resources, the Police Department, the Attorney General’s office.”

Tribal Council had several questions about the process. One that was brought up multiple times was a concern about people ‘gaming the system’. Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy voiced this concern.

“Let’s say somebody beats the system. Comes in here and we take down an old building and they turn around and put a car lot on it. What we’ve done is use our money and resources to take care of something that they may have been responsible for. I want to make sure we don’t do that,” said Rep. McCoy.

Blankenship said that there is not a perfect system, but there are ways to limit this kind of behavior.

“I think the response to that is vigilance over how this is being done,” said Blankenship.

“Say that possessory holder says yes, Tribe, I want to work with you to tear this thing down. Currently, that thing’s vacant. We’re not getting any levy off of it. Say we tear it down and they rebuild. Yes, they do get a benefit from that, but we get a benefit too. Through more traffic, through levy, those things.”

Bradley said that there have been multiple steps to determine which buildings they need to focus on first. She said that they took into account the number of complaints and reports received from areas and buildings. She said that it also involved boots-on-the-ground research to determine which buildings were the most dangerous to the community. She said that the team created a list, and specifically started looking at the ten worst offenders.

“There are some challenges, but the ultimate goal is to make the community safer. To use the law to prevent these public nuisance properties from existing. We didn’t really get into a lot of the questions you’re asking because we didn’t feel like that was our role. Our role is to apply to the law to make the community a safer place. If it brings value to the possessory holder and they want to use that property in the future, of course that would have to come to business committee,” said Bradley.

She also wanted to address the idea of people gaining from the system, stating that the programs are primarily focused on getting the job done more than anything.

“We felt like, honestly, we could get more cooperation with a carrot than a stick. Because there are a lot of possessory holders that own some of these properties. Quite honestly, they don’t have the means to mitigate. They don’t have the means to do what they need to do. But we felt like the community’s safety was more important, because we might be waiting forever.”

Rep. McCoy added the idea of zoning to the conversation. She said that there needs to be a better standard for buildings on the boundary, and that zoning might be the next step.

“We’ve got to have a zoning law. We have got to just sit down one day and have a long, hard talk about that. I know it rubs people the wrong way. But it works in other places, and it can work here. I just think it’s time for us to do that,” said Rep. McCoy.

The resolution passed after a move was made by Wolftown Rep. Bill Taylor and was seconded by Yellowhill Rep. T.W. Saunooke. Yellowhill Rep. David Wolfe and Painttown Reps. Tommye Saunooke and Dike Sneed all voted against the resolution.