By Jesse Wood
Jan. 29, 2015. $100 a day adds up.
For nearly two years, owners of the defunct Frogurt property in Boone received a daily fine of $100 for violating the Town of Boone”s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). Just before the Christmas holidays, the fines stopped after totaling $65,700.
The proprietors of Frogurt Properties LLC, which own the property where the yogurt shop used to operate on Blowing Rock Road, were fined for not fixing a sinkhole on the property in a timely fashion.
After the Boone Town Council exited closed session in its monthly meeting last week, the council adopted an ordinance that stated unless Frogurt Properties LLC pays off the fines, the town attorney is authorized to take the company to court.
Boone Planning and Inspections Director Bill Bailey told the Boone Town Council that Chris Grubb, a code enforcement officer with the town, notified one of the owners of Frogurt in February 2013 that the company was in violation of the UDO for a large sinkhole that formed on the northern edge of the property.
Frogurt closed down a few months before this matter began.
Bailey said that a letter was sent to the registered agent of the company identified on the N.C. Secretary of State’s corporation website.
According to a timeline from the Boone Planning and Inspection’s office, Frogurt was given ten days to submit a zoning application, submit engineered plans to correct the problem, repair the sink hole, and submit a sealed statement from an engineer stating that the work was complete before the clock on daily fines of $100 would begin ticking.
Grubb also notified that Frogurt could appeal with the Boone Board of Adjustment within 30 days, however Frogurt didn’t challenge.
Frogurt applied for a permit for the repairs on April 2, 2013 and the plans were approved on April 16, 2013. However, “no timely action to actually undertake the repairs” took place according to Bailey’s staff.
Then in June 24, 2014, the town notified Frogurt that the permit had expired, and a new application for repairs would have to be submitted. The company was again notified of its right to appeal to the Boone Board of Adjustment within 30 days of the second letter and ordered to pay the accruing fines. However, it didn’t appeal.
According to the timeline, work began on the site in August 2014 before discontinuing all together in September 2014 after the contractors deviated from the approved repair plan and staff requested a modified engineering plan for the changes.
On Dec. 15, repairs were complete and the fines stopped.
Before council addressed the matter last week, first in open session and then in closed because of the potential legal action in the case, Pannu Singh and Mahesh Chhabria, two of the potentially four owners of the property, spoke before the Boone Town Council during public comment.
Singh said he only found out about the violation the night before the meeting. He noted that none of the investors in the company actually lived in Boone and weren’t aware of the sinkhole.
While Singh said that while the town’s violation letter, which was certified, was signed for at the address of the registered agent of Frogurt Properties LLC in February 2013, nobody could recognize the signature.
Singh also said that they were “not aware of this process” and would have appeared before the Boone Town Council a long time ago to explain what was happening.
Singh said that the initial contractors hired stopped answering emails and phone calls, which delayed the sinkhole from being repaired. Then the rains of the 2013 summer also caused delays, especially for a stormwater-maintenance issue. Singh said that he wasn’t aware that his first permit had an expiration date, so the process was delayed again when a new permit had to be applied for.
Chhabria noted that the delay in modifying the permit last fall was due to finding out that the initial engineer diagnosed the wrong problem. Chhabria said while it was initially thought the culvert was damaged, the retaining wall was actually damaged.
Chhabria also said he wasn’t aware of the accruing fines. Chhabria mentioned that his broker was looking at the Boone Town Council’s agenda and saw the $65,700 in fines.
“We honestly had no clue,” Chhabria said.
Singh said that more than $70,000 was spent to fix the sinkhole on the property.
Singh noted that the property was not marketable with the sinkhole. Now the property is back on the market.