Four years after it was condemned, a fire-damaged house at 337 Hilderbrand Drive in Sandy Springs was finally demolished last week.
The teardown was done by Swanton Davis, whom mortgage lender JPMorgan Chase finally allowed to buy the property after about 16 months of trying.
“I got that eyesore out of the public eye,” said Davis, a property developer. He said the property will remain a vacant lot until around mid-2018, when his son will graduate college and start his own development career with a single-family house on the site.
The Hilderbrand house was among thousands nationwide left in disrepair amid legal confusion in the wake of the 2007-2008 mortgage crisis. It was condemned after a February 2013 fire that forced former owner Charles Farlow to move out and caused extensive damage he said he couldn’t afford to repair.
Farlow had previously transferred the house’s ownership to his mother Myrleen as part of an attempt to negotiate with Chase on mortgage payments. City inspectors found the situation confusing and took Charles Farlow, Chase or both to court several times — even jailing Farlow at one point — with little result.
In recent months, Farlow said he had lined up Davis as a buyer for the property, but that Chase would not agree to the sale. Meanwhile, neighbors stepped up pressure on the city to do something, including by circulating a petition. At a February court hearing, the city got authority to demolish the house and take down “dangerous” trees.
Chase, which did not immediately respond to a comment request, had an attorney at that hearing who agreed to the plan and said it was attempting to arrange a buyer.
That buyer turned out to be Davis, who said he signed a contract with Myrleen Farlow about 16 months ago and was just waiting on the bank, which finally gave its “blessing.” He organized and paid for the house’s demolition.
“I don’t know why Chase wouldn’t go ahead and [say], ‘Get this off our books,’” Davis said. “I know the bank knew how much of a nuisance it was to the city.”
“The city was reimbursed for most of its expenses,” said City Attorney Wendell Willard. “We consider this a successful resolution of the problem.”
One neighbor who had pushed for action on the property as it attracted homeless people and dropped tree limbs said he remained unhappy with how long it took the city to work out a solution, though he praised Mayor Rusty Paul’s efforts. And Chase, the neighbor said, should be “publicly shamed” for failing to take responsibility for the property’s condition for years.
“I’m disappointed the lot will remain undeveloped for a period of time,” the neighbor said, “but certainly, no house is better than the dangerous structure we’ve all had to live next to for so many years now.”