Too Little Too Late
A couple of months ago I attended a walking demonstration from Market Street’s Asiana Restaurant to City Hall protesting Frederick City’s inaction on the property, condemned for years. Yes, that’s years.
The city has stated that laws covering this and other blighted buildings in town did not have sufficient corrective measures written into them to adequately enforce building code violations.
What is not said much in discussion of the Asiana property is that Myung and Duk Hee Ro own several other properties along the east side of North Market Street between Third and Fourth Streets. If you’d like to know which ones, take a look for broken steps, peeling paint and vacancies. Much of the block is derelict, and the vast majority of the derelict properties belong to them.
Yesterday I saw Mrs. Ro outside one of these buildings standing over some poor schmuck stuck with the job of doing some painting in the shadow of her pointed, jabbing finger.
Known affectionately as “the Dragon Lady” in the neighborhood, this lady has been the bane of the neighborhood’s existence for many years.
She and her husband have never adequately maintained their buildings. Until recent years, they regularly failed to remove snow. “That Cuban Place” restaurant moved out of the Third and Market corner spot simultaneously with condemnation of the building due to a dangerous lack of support of the main floor.
Mrs. Ro has on more than one occasion, certainly after the condemnation of the “That Cuban Place” building, attempted to make repairs without permits, right on the corner in front of the picture window.
My most personally enraging story about Mrs. Ro took place more than 20 years ago, when my son and some friends lived in one of her apartments in the beautiful, mansard-roofed building from which was outfitted the Lewis and Clark expedition. When she bought the building a few years before, it had been completely renovated. What happened to my son and his roommates just a few years into her stewardship of this historic treasure was that the ceiling of their apartment collapsed due to the weight of the pigeon dung in the attic above them.
They moved out, of course. It’s hard to live in a pile of dung. She demanded that they forfeit their deposit, expressing shock and dismay that they had violated her trust in them as nice boys!
The city appears now to be taking some action, as well as improving the code enforcement system. The law has even been changed to allow for some consequences for blighted property owners. Kudos for this much this late. Let’s hope it makes a real difference someday.
People should, of course, maintain their properties, mow their lawns, use their land in accordance with zoning regulations, and keep things relatively trash free. Otherwise, they are violating their neighbors’ rights to live safely, peacefully and comfortably in their own residences.
There is a big difference, though, between one-time violators, people who become financially distressed or ill, and the Ro family.
There should definitely be different treatment for different offenders.
Assistance, deferred fines, even consultations with Habitat, health care providers, or charitable organizations, which assist people to live safely in their homes, are in some cases much more appropriate than fines.
In the Ro case, however, Mr. and Mrs. Ro have been neglecting their properties to the serious financial and personal detriment of residents and businesses on North Market Street for decades!
It’s too late to go back and throw the book at the Ro family 20 years ago as the city should have, but it’s really disheartening to see them get off with a $1,000 fine and two extensions, so far, for their extreme neglect of the Asiana building, with no mention of all the other derelict properties that severely diminish the financial value and quality of life of an entire city block.
The Ro’s should be prosecuted for neglect of all their buildings simultaneously, as the Asiana building alone doesn’t begin to tell the story of their negative impact on the downtown community.
Thanks, City of Frederick, for finally doing something. Do more, and do it better.