Townsend’s elected officials have given the owners of a long-vacant commercial property 30 days to shore up their blighted structure or face having the nearly 75-year-old building demolished at their expense.

Townsend’s elected officials have given the owners of a long-vacant commercial property 30 days to shore up their blighted structure or face having the nearly 75-year-old building demolished at their expense.

“It’s been empty for years now, almost all of the windows are broken and portions of the building look like they’re going to fall down any day now,” Townsend Mayor Jermaine Hatton said. “We’ve been trying for years to work with the owners to get it into compliance with town code, but at this point, we believe it poses a real risk to residents, especially children who might be tempted to play in or around the building.”

Townsend Town Council handed down their ultimatum April 1 during a hearing attended by Smyrna resident Mark Faries, who says he and his brother, Ralph Faries III, recently inherited the half-acre property and 8,300-square-foot building at 316 Gray St.

The vote to give the property owners another 30 days to bring the building into compliance followed Faries’ insistence that he is serious about restoring the property to a functioning commercial enterprise.

“As far as inheritances go, this has been a headache, but I want to make it into a positive outlook for me, as well as the town,” he said “I’m throwing myself at the mercy of the mayor and the council to allow me to make these changes and go out on a positive note and not make the town eat the bill [for demolition] and sue me later. I’d rather take care of it in a professional manner.”

Faries said this week that he expects to soon begin demolishing a structurally unsound overhang along Gray Street, as well as repair the nearly-collapsed basement doors and the building’s numerous broken windows.

If Faries is able to accomplish that task, he will be given another 30 days to complete additional work needed on the building, town officials said.

Faries said his ultimate goal is to fully restore the building and begin leasing it out to as many as two retail stores and offices.

“It’s almost next to impossible to rent it out the way it is now, and the people who want to rent it the way it is are not the people I want in business in the town that has treated my family so well over the last 50 years,” he told council. “I know the town is really looking for something community oriented that will help drive commerce and I’m open to suggestions once we get past this point.”

Once a Studebaker repair shop in the early 1900s, the existing structure was built in the 1940s, more than a decade before Faries’ grandfather and father purchased it to open an agriculture equipment repair shop that remained in business for decades.

Faries said he opened an automobile body shop there in the early 1990s, which lasted until about 2007.

Since that time, New Castle County has not received any payments for sewer, property taxes or school taxes assessed on the land, according to county records, which indicate the property currently carries a combined overdue balance of about $15,580.

Although property records still list Ralph G. Faries Sr. and Ralph G. Faries Jr. as the legal owners, Mark Faries said his father left property to his mother, Nancy, after his death in 2002.

Nancy Faries became seriously ill soon thereafter, he said.

“It got to the point where my brother and I had to decide whether to sell all her belongings and put her in a home, or just let the building go and spend the money on taking care of her instead,” he said. “For us, it wasn’t really much of a decision, so the building in Townsend sort of got forgotten about while she was in hospice.”

Nancy Faries reportedly died in 2012, not long before the town began taking legal action in an effort to compel the property owners to bring the Gray Street property into compliance with town code.

Townsend Code Compliance Officer David Naples said last week that he was able to identify at least eight code violations from the outside.

Faries has since allowed Naples to enter the property and the town has determined the building is still structurally sound.

“At the end of the day, the main thing the town wants is for that building to be safe and sealed off so no one can get into it and have the roof fall down on them,” Hatton said. “Of course, we’d also like to see a viable business there that can anchor our downtown commercial district, but for the moment we’re taking a wait-and-see approach before getting our hopes up.”