A New Castle resident's bid for a former market on Sheep Hill was met with apprehension at the New Castle City Council caucus meeting Tuesday evening.
"Well I thought we were going to not even entertain something that didn’t even come to us with a plan," said Councilman Tim Fulkerson.
When discussion began about the lack of construction plans and cost estimates in Michael Ann Lewis $1,600 bid for the former Wasilewski's Market, a man identifying himself as attorney Anthony Piatek arose from the audience to counter the council's points.
Councilwoman MaryAnne Gavrile stopped him.
"You need to be recognized by the chair," said Gavrile.
Piatek and Lewis then approached the podium in order to address Council President Tom Smith.
"According to the notice we received, we were to appear here to possibly answer questions regarding the purchase of the property," said Piatek. "We weren’t under the impression that we needed to file any plans."
Councilman Tim Fulkerson asked who gave Piatek that information.
On Lewis's "property intent application" issued by the city, it lists Jan. 7 at 6:30 p.m. as the "encouraged" council meeting Lewis should appear before council to answer further questions about her plans.
"If you would like some additional documentation as to what they propose then that can be accomplished, but that wasn’t our impression at this moment in time," Piatek continued.
On the application, Lewis listed converting the property into an investment property by making apartments out of the building, and how she wanted construction "start as soon as possible" and the timeline to be six months to two years.
For the six years he has been on the council, Fulkerson said, every time an applicant submits a bid on property with a structure, they have included such items as plans and estimates.
Councilman Bryan Cameron noted on her application, a question calling for an "itemized list of repairs/plans with estimated costs" was marked with a question mark.
"Does that mean you don’t know the estimate?" asked Cameron.
"I, personally, I have a hard time with this building without her walking through the building and knowing what she’s getting into, sir," said Fulkerson.
Piatek notes the difficulty in estimating those costs without being able to enter the building legally.
"That's something we’ve been trying to change for years, Mr. Attorney," said Fulkerson.
When properties enter the repository, Lawrence County becomes the trustee.
“It’s not privately owned property anymore. Even though that person’s name is still on the deed, it doesn’t matter because it’s been through a tax sale and didn’t sell at the time that ended," said Tax Claim solicitor Tom Leslie in September. "The final authority with that property lies with the Tax Claim Bureau ...They can give can give anybody they want to permission to go in and look at it.”
In December, Tax Claim Director Artishia Foster said Leslie was in the process of drafting a waiver for potential bidders to enter the structures on the repository list.
Smith reiterated his commitment to "safeguarding" city residents by requiring a bond totaling the cost for demolition to be submitted along with bids. Cameron and Gavrile agreed.
Piatek began listing other properties in the city Lewis has bought, rehabilitated and put back on the tax rolls, and also explaining she has done the construction herself.
Fulkerson noted those properties were not listed on the her application.
"I’m not denying that," said Fulkerson. "I need evidence."
Lewis also put in a $1,000 bid for 707 Arlington Ave., which is another property with a building.
Piatek asked if Lewis could resubmit her bid with the accompanying plans for their consideration during a meeting in February while Fulkerson asked Smith if the bid could be removed from the agenda.
Smith declined and moved to add the bid to a vote on the meeting agenda.
Brittany Ellison of Sheep Hill put a $700 bid on the former market in September, but her bid was also denied.
Ellison and her mom talked about potentially putting in a coffee shop or lounge on the first floor and apartment on the second if the building is structurally sound.
She vowed to continue to pursue the property.
“Just something to the community. Even if it has to be torn down, imagine nothing but flowers out here,” said Ellison.