The Rick Koerber, Franklin Squires Video Feed

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Guess who Owes $16,685.74 in Back Taxes? Yep, Rick Koerber, Posted by Robert Paisola

City orders clearance of mansion fire debris

By Ruth Ingram
ringram@clintonnews.com

More than a year after its destruction by fire, No. 2 St. Charles Place in Southern Oaks lies in ruins, its remaining walls threatening to crumble, its swimming pool a haven for mosquitoes.

It's more than an eyesore at the mouth of one of Clinton's loveliest subdivisions, residents say. It's a safety hazard that needs to be cleaned up by its owner, a Provo, Utah, real estate company, they say.

"We've tried. We sent them at least one letter, asking them to clean up their mess and haul off the rubbish," St. Charles Place resident Richard Shapley said of Rick Koerber of Hill Erickson LLC.

Clinton aldermen on Tuesday voted to declare as unkempt the property once owned by former Major League Baseball player Jeff Brantley and to assess costs of cleaning it to the owner.

Koerber's Web site, rickkoerber.com, says of Hill Erickson: "The company's principal activity is acquisition of residential and commercial retail properties. By marketing investment properties, it provides wealth building opportunities for investors."

Hill Erickson purchased the Brantley property not long before the July 22, 2006 fire that reduced the 16,000-square-foot home to ruins. The multimillion-dollar residence was designed by Cindy Brantley and completed in 1998; the couple divorced several years ago.

According to the Hinds County Tax Collector's office, taxes on the property now owned by Hill Erickson LLC weren't paid for 2006. The amount due is $16,685.74, according to the Hinds County Chancery Clerk's office.

Shapley, a board member of the Southern Oaks Homeowners Association, worries about kids who cross over the property so they can fish in lakes behind it.

"I'm sure they're stopping to see what's going on in the burned-out hull of the house," said Shapley, a Southern Oaks resident since 1999. "There are some brick walls standing 15-20 feet tall there. A big wind could blow them over."

The home's remains smoldered for at least a week following the spectacular blaze that fire investigators say may have been caused by a lightning strike.

Former Southern Oaks Homeowners Association president Tom Smith said that he never received a response from the letter his group sent to Koerber.

"It's my understanding that the insurance company has paid them off, yet he (Koerber) is neglecting his responsibility to the homeowners of Southern Oaks," said Smith, the homeowners' association treasurer.

"We expected his company to step forward. That's the honorable thing to do."

Messages were left Tuesday and Wednesday with Koerber's office seeking comment. Koerber did not answer an e-mailed request for comment.

Gary Ward, the city's planning and zoning chief, said he doesn't know if Hill Erickson's insurance company has paid a claim from the fire.

"That's not any of our concern. Our concern is to get the property cleaned up," Ward said after aldermen unanimously declared the St. Charles Place property and five other sites as unkempt. The action means the property owners will be immediately notified that the city will have the property either razed or cleaned at the owner's cost unless the owner takes hasty action.

"Nothing has been done" to clean the St. Charles Place property, Ward told aldermen. "They assured me a couple of weeks ago that they were getting bids to clean the property and to take care of the pool situation."

"I've seen situations where people (whose homes burned) settle with their insurance, then do nothing" to clear lots of debris, Ward 1 alderman Tony Hisaw said.

It's significant that the city Tuesday took action on five different properties in need either of razing or major cleaning, said Ward 2 alderman Tony Greer.

"We need to continue to be aggressive," Greer said.

Shapley said he believes the pool at No. 2 St. Charles Place may have been cleaned once since the fire, "but it continues to hold water and is getting dirty again. Our concern is that mosquitoes will breed over there and then go a brief distance down the road and infect residents with West Nile."

Shapley said the curious still turn into his cul-de-sac to catch a glimpse of what used to be one of Mississippi's largest residences.

"People will drive down and look and stare. There's a nice poolhouse back there still. It probably needs work, but someone could probably live in it."

At the time of the fire, Southern Oaks was in an area the city had annexed, but was being contested in court. Since then, the annexation has been approved.

"The city now has the problem. It's up to the city to do something about it, and I'm sure they will," Shapley said. "But it needs to be done soon to bring this to a head."

Stephen Thompson, the homeowners' association president, said he contacted the county about the property in January. Before the county could take action, the city's annexation of the subdivision took effect, he said.

He then contacted the city to get the ball rolling. That culminated in Tuesday's action.

"Our main thing is that debris is everywhere," Thompson said. "And we are concerned about the health problems, especially West Nile. It only takes one mosquito.

"It was a nice property. To leave it in ruins ..."

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