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A matter of respect

We’ve heard the term “historic” used a lot lately to describe East Hickory Street buildings that have been targeted by city code enforcement efforts.

History buffs are concerned that the city’s attempts to strictly enforce code guidelines could ultimately threaten the structures. Not everyone agrees that the buildings have historic value, but Peggy Riddle, director of the Denton County Office of History and Culture, said it’s possible that part of East Hickory could be designated a national historic district.

Some of these old buildings may, indeed, have historic value, but what seems more important to us are the people who own them. Several East Hickory Street business owners affected by the code enforcement crackdown have been around for a lot of years, and we can’t help wondering why it’s suddenly so important to bring their properties up to code.

Barney’s Auto Parts owner Jimmy Normile, 90, is one of the owners. He recently learned from a code enforcement officer that he had 90 days to address problems with his building.

Normile told us that he had hoped to keep his auto parts store open for a few more years, but that may not be possible. He may have to sell.

“There’s no way I can bring it up to what they want,” Normile said, pointing out windows and other features of his shop, built in 1936, that don’t meet current codes.

We don’t doubt that code enforcement officers found problems with this and other buildings of similar vintage. After all, there’s been a lot of upgrades in city ordinances in the nearly 80 years since Normile’s shop was built, but catching up with all the changes is a tough task to tackle in only 90 days.

In fact, as Normile told us, it seems impossible.

We understand that the city must ensure that structures are safe, but what makes a building that has stood for almost eight decades suddenly that much less safe than it was a year or so ago? And if a pressing safety issue does concern city officials, why wait 90 days to have it resolved?

The way some longtime East Hickory Street building owners have been treated recently has raised concerns that the code enforcement crackdown has more to do with aesthetics than safety. Some who feel this way point to a City Council plan to create a “grand street” project along Hickory Street from the Square to Bell Avenue that includes public utility upgrades and aesthetic improvements from sidewalks to street lights. Design work is already under way.

We can understand officials’ desire to spruce up the city, but we don’t believe that longtime business or property owners should be unfairly penalized to make it happen.

Lancine Bentley, Denton’s director of code enforcement, told us that city deadlines for getting work done are standing orders but they aren’t open-and-shut. She said the city has a process that, even when a building needs a lot of work, can accommodate property owners.

That sounds fair, and we encourage the city to explore all options available to work with existing property and business owners as the Hickory Street project and other improvement plans unfold.

People like Jimmy Normile have contributed much to the city, and they deserve to be treated with respect.

In our view, that will do more to enhance the city’s image than any “grand street” project.