Edmond public nuisance
New Life Village is located at 1300 E. Ayers St. in Edmond, Oklahoma. (Michael McNutt)

After a contentious meeting that lasted nearly four hours, the Edmond City Council unanimously declared New Life Village a public nuisance Monday night owing to persistent troubles with criminal activity and code enforcement at the property.

Council members also approved a strict abatement plan, which requires property owners to bring the building within code compliance by their March 11 meeting.

The Edmond City Council also adopted a new tax-increment-financing policy, which includes a $2,500 application fee for TIF projects, and approved cost-saving measures for the $44 million City Center Complex, which is currently under construction.

The three-story property at 1300 E. Ayers St. has been plagued by numerous law enforcement and code enforcement issues over the last decade, including broken fire sprinklers and fire alarms. A city staff presentation showed that owners of the property have been issued 54 code enforcement citations since 2014. Council members also expressed concern that the property’s elevator permit had expired.

According to people who spoke during Monday’s meeting, the dilapidated 90-room building has all 30 rooms on the first floor occupied, mostly by veterans using housing vouchers. The Edmond Fire Department and the city’s Building and Fire Code Services found numerous issues during a brief monthly inspection Jan. 29 and have not cleared the second and third floors for occupancy.

Deric Duncan, the senior post commander for Edmond’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post, said the property’s management is advertising their rooms for veterans specifically.

“They’ve been putting out messages that there are 90 beds available for veterans immediately. So we were (previously) paying out money for veterans to go live in a hotel, when they come here expecting a bed,” Duncan said. “They put out, ‘Any veteran, please come. Pay $850 a month. There are 90 rooms available.'”

During the public hearing portion of the agenda item, Rex Ice, commander of Edmond’s American Legion Post, delivered critical remarks regarding the property owner.

“I’ve talked to the folks at the State Department of Veteran Affairs. They have gone in and found things like fecal matter, used needles and everything that our poor city police department and city servants have to put up with with these type of people (as landlords),” Ice said. “I wholeheartedly agree with my VFW brothers and request that you dismiss these deplorable individuals as the slumlords that they are and send them to another town.”

A memorandum from Madeline Sawyer, Edmond’s city attorney, states that the Edmond Police Department responded to 651 calls and made 65 arrests at the property from September 2021 to August 2022. The memorandum also states that EPD responded to 462 total dispatched calls at the property from Jan. 5, 2023 to Feb. 15, 2024.

“We’re talking about the safety of the residents and the surrounding neighborhoods,” Ward 4 Councilwoman Stacie Peterson said. “We’re talking about police calls, multiple police calls, that are threatening the safety of the people in that building and around that building. We’re talking about multiple calls, both false alarms, which take our fire department away from true calls for keeping them safe and legitimate fire department calls. This is terrible.”

In January 2022, the Edmond City Council declared the property a public nuisance, and efforts were made to turn it into affordable housing. In August 2022, the Edmond City Council approved a rezoning application allowing for multi-family housing in addition to the existing hotel use on the property, which the owner renamed “New Life Village.”

In January 2023, after routine updates on code compliance before the Edmond City Council, the property was deemed to no longer be a nuisance. The property was authorized to start allowing tenants on the first floor in May 2023.

Danny Shadid, the attorney representing property owner Dr. Rajesh Narula, said it was unfair for city staff to use statistics dating back to 2014 in their presentation owing to the council’s January 2023 action.

“At that point in time, the City Council had declared that the property is not a nuisance. So anything else that would constitute a nuisance has to be something that comes into play after Jan. 9, 2023,” Shadid said. “Having a history that goes back to 2014 is not valid.”

Council members alleged that Narula has not followed his plan to keep the property in appropriate shape.

“Over the past however long the the period of time you want to say, we’ve had several, which are documented, police and fire and first responder calls there. Yes, on a certain day we said, ‘OK, things look good,'” Mayor Darrell Davis said. “When I put that on a whiteboard right now, what was said then and what’s happening now is not happening.”

Ward 3 Councilwoman Christin Mugg said the property is in the same position it was a year ago.

“It just seems like there is this pattern of excuses. As the mayor said, we’re in the same spot we were in 14 months ago,” Mugg said. “Things that were said are going to be done are not being done.”

The Edmond City Council unanimously approved an abatement plan for the property, which includes:

  • A full inspection of the property this week;
  • A prohibition against adding new residents to the property;
  • Requirement for the property to come into compliance with Edmond Municipal Code by the next Edmond City Council meeting, March 11;
  • Requirement for the property owner to install security cameras by March 11;
  • Requirement that the property owner hire a CLEET-certified officer to be on the premises 24/7 by 5 p.m. Friday. (City must be sent the contract between property owner and officer.)

Ice said American Legion Post 111 and VFW Post 4938 are pooling together funds for veterans seeking housing after Monday’s meeting. The Edmond City Council did not set a timeline for evicting tenants from the property.

“Between the VFW and the American Legion, we are coming together to help homeless veterans with their displacement problems in Edmond,” Ice said. “We’re coming together to help homeless veterans.”

Shadid asks Robins to recuse on New Life Village vote

Attorney Danny Shadid, with a court reporter present, speaks to the Edmond City Council on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. (Joe Tomlinson)

Within walking distance of the University of Central Oklahoma, New Life Village falls within Ward 1, represented by Councilman Tom Robins. On Friday, Robins made a Facebook post asking for residents to “make their voice heard” at Monday’s meeting regarding the issues at the property.

Shadid took issue with Robins’ post and asked for him to recuse from the item.

“I do not take this lightly in any respect, but I must ask that Councilman Robins disqualify himself,” Shadid said. “Councilman Robins has taken a stance on this matter.”

Robins guffawed at the request. After a short recess, Robins declined to recuse. He then asked a litany of questions to members of city staff regarding the property’s state of disrepair. However, Robins’ most shocking question related to a former maintenance man who he alleged to have distributed and manufactured child pornography. Robins said it is his understanding that the man was allowed to live on site at the property, and there was no written contract for the work.

“My understanding is that a gentlemen this last month who became a subject of an investigation of Internet Crimes Against Children had been previously employed at this location as a maintenance worker,” Robins said. “Is it true or matter of fact that he was found in possession of child pornography, and would be considered a hands-on actor, meaning a manufacturer of child pornography?”

Edmond Police Chief J.D. Younger declined to go into detail, but he said the man had been charged.

“I can’t speak to the details, but I do understand that that person was charged with possession and distribution,” Younger said.

Later in the meeting, Shadid said Narula has arranged for Zoe Healing Center, a Christian-based nonprofit organization, to take over operations of the property beginning Saturday. However, he said there is no written contract. Shadid also said Narula has acquired $2.4 million in private financing to upgrade the property.

During public comment, Leonard Scott, one the Edmond City Council’s biggest critics, praised council members for their service Monday.

“I’m going to keep it short tonight out of respect for you all’s great work tonight, for defending and following your oath to the city,” Scott said. “I ask you to please take a hard look at citizen’s comments, because you’re not fulfilling your own obligations, and I’ll leave it at that. Again, I want to thank you tonight, council members, for standing up for the citizens of Edmond.”

New TIF policy includes application fee, oversight committee floated

The Edmond City Council also approved an updated tax-increment finance policy Monday, which will include a new $2,500 application fee for prospective developers. Those fees will pay for general administration costs and external legal fees, staff said.

While city staff members proposed assessing the $2,500 fee upon submission of a TIF assistance application, Robins asked for the application fee to be paid upon approval by the Edmond City Council.

Additionally, Ward 2 Councilman Barry Moore said he would like to create a citizen’s oversight committee for the TIF process.

“I’ll be offering that amendment to this policy. If this policy is adopted, I’ll offer that amendment in March,” Moore said.

The new TIF policy was approved unanimously as proposed, with council members saying that Moore’s proposed oversight committee and the language about when the fee would be assessed will be included in an item next month.

Attorney Todd McKinnis, who represents five of the six total TIF projects in the city, spoke against the application fee, claiming it could potentially impede the city from receiving the ad-valorem dollars the city will receive under a TIF. The city does does not receive those property tax dollars outside of a TIF.

“Why would we do anything that makes it less appealing to apply for it? Why would we not do everything that we could to make sure as many people are applying as possible, and then they get vetted out in the process?” McKinnis asked.

The updated policy also removes a TIF assistance cap, which previously specified the amount of assistance or reimbursement a developer can receive on a TIF project. In the original policy, that assistance cap decreased over the life of the TIF district, making it more difficult for projects to come to fruition in the district’s latter years.

Aside from Moore’s eventual citizens’ TIF oversight committee, a TIF application review team was implemented Monday. According to the policy, that committee will include the planning director, the engineering director, the finance director, the city attorney, and other individuals as deemed appropriate by the city manager.

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Cost savings approved on City Center complex

The new Edmond city hall building, estimated to be complete in March 2025, will be on the site of the Downtown Community Center at 28 E. Main St. (Screenshot)

Also at Monday’s meeting, the Edmond City Council approved a number of new items on the planned City Center Complex, a $44 million project that includes a new city hall, municipal court and city offices along East Main Street in downtown.

Through the value-engineering process, the city worked with the project’s contractors to find more than a $1 million in cost savings. With the combined new purchases and the cost savings, the Edmond City Council was able to approve a $565,060 decrease on the project.

In total, the City Center items approved Monday night include decorative stairs and rails, visual display surfaces, toilet partitions, toilet and bath accessories, fire extinguisher equipment, overhead doors, operable partitions in the public meeting room space, flagpole, sealed or stained concrete floors and fencing for the mechanical yard.

With the items approved Monday night, nearly $39.7 million has been approved on the project in total, leaving about $4.3 million left to spend on the final bid package.

(Correction: This article was updated at 9:18 p.m. to correct reference to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. NonDoc regrets this error.)