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Willis Motel has another new owner - Third time’s a charm…maybe

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Woodville City SealBy Mollie LaSalle
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WOODVILLE – The Willis Motel has another new owner. Todd Emmerton, of Livingston was present at Monday evening’s special called hearing about the property, which began at 5:15 at the Woodville Fire Station.

Emmerton presented all necessary documentation to show proof of ownership of the property to council; the sale was finalized and Emmerton took ownership of the property January 3, 2024. When asked point blank what his plans were, he said, “ I plan on leaving it as a motel”.

City Administrator Mandy Risinger advised council that “ the ordinance in place requires a written plan for remediation or proposed action and then proof of financial responsibility in order to carry out that plan, and a timeline for when the plan will be completed”. Mayor Amy Bythewood asked Emmerton, “have you identified a contractor to assist with this project for the asbestos removal”? Emmerton responded, “I wasn’t aware of the asbestos, that was a surprise to me. I called all around and talked to the one gentleman who has been out there before, but he didn’t do the actual report. I have been unable to get a copy of the report”.

Bythewood added, “I don’t believe the council as a whole has received a copy of the report. We were in communication with the person a previous owner had hired to demolish the property (Steve Baker) and I was able to see the report from him. The property is ate up with asbestos and a lot of hazardous material”.

Emmerton was asked what his plans are for the motel. “I plan on tearing it down to the studs and remodeling,” he said. He also said he was going to get a loan to take care of the cost of the asbestos removal.

Bythewood said, “we are looking at our third owner in three months of a piece of property that is hazardous to our community, and it needs to go away, whether that’s remodeled, demolition, or whatever, it’s been in this particular condition for years. I have spoken with the city’s attorney about moving forward with the city tearing it down at the city’s expense with the lien against the property. I don’t think any of us want to stop anybody from bringing something to the community, and if that could be rehabbed, that would be wonderful. I think that was a ten year ago plan”.  The city’s attorney was unable to attend Monday night’s meeting due to a prior commitment.

Bythewood further explained, “I want you to be aware that we are at the end grace of any extensions or anything. Because (the motel) is right on the highway in the middle of people coming back and forth from town, anything pretty is just overshadowed. It’s just so highly visible. We are at the end of the grace that we can give to an owner, even if it might be a new owner, and the next steps to actually removing it. You (Emmerton) are the newest owner and you’re hearing everything for the first time it seems like, which is unconscionable to sell you property like that”.

Risinger added that “we need to reconvene in 30 days, and have our attorney present, which will give Emmerton time to get an environmental report and an estimate for demolition, so he will know whether or not he wants to rehab, what the extent of the damage is, the environmental concern and an estimate of what it would be to abate it. The first thing that has to happen is abatement and clean-up”. Emmerton was asked if he had a timeline for bringing the building down to studs and starting over; “not that long, depending on the weather, and the timeline for removal of asbestos”, he said.

Curfew ordinance repealed

When council reconvened for the regular meeting, council approved ordinance No. 20240212, which repealed the citywide ordinance, which established curfew hours for minors. The curfew, originally adopted in 1994, allows minors (17 years of age and under) to be out and about until 11 p.m., Sunday through Thursday and up until midnight on Friday and Saturday.

Council also approved the purchase of a new patrol vehicle for the police department to replace a 2021 Dodge Charger that was damaged in accident recently. The value of the vehicle was determined to be $24, 850.00. The responsible parties (for the accident) insurance paid out a claim of $25,000.00, which left a difference of $12,865.00 to purchase a 2023 Dodge Charger from a dealer in Silsbee. Council approved the request.

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