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Open records request leads to safety concerns
Thoughts of Tuscany pines immediately conjure up images of some of the most stunning trees in the Mediterranean, both fragile and robust as they thrive in the tranquility of a soft, green landscape.
However in McCreary County, thoughts of Tuscany Pines conjure up nagging concerns about the safety of residents residing in a local apartment complex tagged with that very same name.
McCreary County officials have increasing concerns about the safety of tenants who reside in Tuscany Pines, a two building apartment complex located on S. Hwy 1651, just north of Stearns, KY. In years gone by, the property was known as Esau Ross’ Store and Apartments.
Today, the building structures are in a state of disrepair. McCreary County Emergency Management Director Stephen McKinney estimates there are approximately twenty apartments with four or five currently rented. McKinney first accompanied a state fire marshall to inspect Tuscany Pines approximately six years ago.
“The first time I went with the fire marshall and Fire Chief Tony Miller to do an inspection was when Judge Doug Stephens was in office,” McKinney recalled. “But actually, there had been complaints and inspections even before that. We got our findings and took pictures. However, the state wanted to give the property owner time to do renovation and tear down what needed to be torn down.”
“I went on an inspection again with a different fire marshall, and we discovered foundation and structural issues, including a gap in the foundation and a leaning wall,” McKinney noted.
Inspectors began regularly measuring the building’s widening gap and bulging wall. Reports were submitted, but somehow, the property owner was always granted more time to repair the building.
“The property owner has had at least six years,” McKinney said. “They did some repair by putting a roof on one building, and then they had to tear down a second floor landing.”
McKinney also mentioned problems with sinkholes, cracks in the building’s foundation, and septic problems.
“Fire marshall reports definitely show critical deficiencies in the structures, and inspectors have referred the property to be condemned at least twice,” McKinney explained. “For some reason, it never happens.”
According to McKinney, County officials and Magistrate Bobby Strunk are concerned about the safety of the tenants residing at Tuscany Pines, which is located in Strunk’s 3rd magisterial district.
“We have to refer inspections like these out to other agencies because we do not have zoning in the county,” McKinney explained.
Magistrate Strunk also voiced his concern for tenants at the complex.
“I’ve felt sorry for the individuals living there,” Magistrate Strunk said. “I’d like to see them have better housing.”
After learning about the potentially dangerous situation at Tuscany Pines, The Voice submitted an Open Records Request through the Department of Housing, Buildings, and Construction, Division of Fire Prevention, a branch of the Public Protection Cabinet in Frankfort, KY. The Voice requested inspection records dating back to 2018.
Excerpts and summaries from a few selected inspection reports for Tuscany Pines Apartment Complex include the following:
1/04/2023—Building 1-Inspection Status: Failed
A re-inspection was performed on January 4, 2023 of the apartment complex. The structure remains in a state of despair. Grounds are still cluttered, and combustibles are still against the building. No evidence has been discovered that the landowner has attempted to contact the Fire Marshal’s office about an engineer’s assessment or plan of correction. At the time of inspection, I was advised by a tenant that another occupant with two kids has moved into the Apartment/Store building. In the crawl space under the store section, one apartment unit/floor has collapsed into the crawl space, demonstrating a structurally unsound building that is continuing to deteriorate.
There are also previous issues found during the September 27, 2022 inspection that remain unchanged.
September 27, 2022-Inspection Status: Failed
I received a complaint from a county official, numerous county residents, and county employees about Tuscany Apartments being in a state of needing condemned. Upon arrival, I observed the neglected state of two structures, both apartments with one apartment building having an old store/gas station attached to it. This report is for the apartment/store multi-occupancy building. Initial observations indicated the roof of the store portion has been neglected and water has made entry into the main floor of the store. Also observed were two large holes in the foundation portion of the wall on the A-side of the structure (main road facing side). The EM Director advised me there have been sinkhole problems in the lot, and the remedy was to dump wood chips into the holes. The sinkholes have led to the two failures in the exterior wall as well as a major crack from the top of the wall to the point where one large hole is located. On the rear side, there are cracks down the exterior wall to the bottom of the wall. Viewing the interior through the front windows, the ceiling is sagging into the store area. The second level apartments to the left side of the store, exterior wall has materials removed, exposing the internal structure elements to weathering. Upon entering an open storage room, daylight could be seen through a crack on the corner on the C-side exterior of the structure. It was observed that a window was being pushed out of its framing, and a large bow and crack was noticed on the second story level. The rear wall is bowing out and structurally unsound. Further towards the middle of the C-side, old wooden decking for access to the rear apartments was observed. It had severe rot and was not safe to attempt to investigate those apartments. Traveling down the hill behind the structure, access holes were knocked out in the wall to the crawlspaces under the store/apartment area. Viewing into these spaces from the exterior, floor rot and collapse can be observed toward the main road facing side of the structure.
The absence of maintenance has led to structurally unsafe conditions. An engineer performed an assessment in April 2019. Another structural assessment shall be performed on all the structures on this property by a licensed professional engineer to deem the buildings sound or unsound with evidence to support the decision.
January 4, 2023-Building 2-Inspection Status: Failed
A re-inspection was performed on January 4, 2023. No evidence has been discovered that the landowner has attempted to contact the Fire Marshal’s office about an engineer assessment or plan of correction. There have been some electrical boxes and wires added to the exterior of the structure for lights and other electrical devices which have open outlet boxes, extension cords, and spliced wiring all exposed to the weather. One occupied unit had a wood heater/stove with an exhaust pipe coming through a window. I felt heat coming out of the pipe.
September 27, 2022-Building 2-Inspection Status: Failed
While investigating the front of the structure it was noted the upper-level apartments sustained water damage and had evidence of ceiling/roof material collapsing into the upper-level apartments. State Fire Marshall Ed Lemley requested the local fire department bring a ladder for closer investigation into the upper-level apartments. Documenting was completed from the ladder as no entry was made due to structurally unsafe conditions. One upper-level apartment could not be accessed due to the building shifting and the door being in a bind from deformation of the structure.
Upon donning personal protective equipment, the Fire Marshall entered lower-level apartments and immediately noticed a black sludge and foul smell of raw sewage on the floor. Closer investigation found numerous sewage leaks causing the decay of structure members in the floor of the main level apartments. Remains of wall studs had the bottom 2 to 3 inches rotted away and were only hanging from top members. The building is structurally unsound due to the rotting floor joists and structural members contained in the sub-level old apartments.
11-10-2020 Building 1-Inspection Status: Failed
06-04-2020, Building 1-Inspection Status: Failed
06-11-2020, Building 2-Inspection Status: Failed/The exterior conditions at this facility continue to decline. I do not enter any apartments. The plan of correction agreed upon by owner and assistant fire marshal has obviously not been followed.
12-09-2019-Buildings 1 & 2-Inspection Status: Failed/No progress on repairs as specified in agreement between owner and Assistant Fire Marshall. I do not enter building due to personal safety concerns.
11-14-2019-Buildings 1 & 2-Inspection Status: Failed/This building is in a deplorable state of repair and is still being occupied. I have seen no evidence of repairs from exterior and did not enter building. A cave in of foundation has been filled in with gravel, but does not add any structural integrity.
The exterior conditions at this facility continue to decline. I do not enter any apartments. The plan of correction agreed upon by owner and Fire Marshall’s office has obviously not been followed. A child’s swing set has been placed within 25 feet of foundation cave-ins.
4-27-2020, Buildings 1 & 2-Inspection Status: Failed/Facility does not appear to have made any repairs as agreed by owner and assistant state fire marshal.
According to the McCreary County PVA office, the property (including a small house adjacent to the apartment complex) is listed under Tuscany Pines, LLC with a corresponding deed signed by Anthony P. Roberts as a member of the LLC. Anthony Paul Roberts is also listed as a member of the Tuscany Pines LLC, a for-profit Kentucky Limited Liability Company in active and good standing with the Kentucky Secretary of State’s office. The Tuscany Pines LLC lists its principal office address as 120 Commonwealth Drive, London, KY. The registered agent for the LLC is Julie W. Roberts with current officer members of the LLC being Julie Wilson Roberts, Anthony Paul Roberts, Michael Sumner Parson JR, and Kaneallia Parsons.
The Tuscany Pines LLC property was purchased in December of 2016 for $65,000. In 2020, the property’s value assessment in the McCreary County PVA’s office stood at $64,000; however, a mortgage in the amount of $200,000 was taken out against the property from a bank in Winchester, KY in July 2020. As a result, the McCreary County PVA assessment on the property increased to $200,000 in 2021.
The address of the Tuscany Pines, LLC is the same as that of SERVPRO of Pulaski and Laurel Counties. SERVEPRO is a franchise property damage restoration company in London, KY, specializing in the cleanup and restoration of residential and commercial property after fire, smoke or water damage.
According to the SERVPRO of Pulaski and Laurel Counties website (https://www.servpro.com/locations/ky/servpro-of-pulaski-laurel-counties), Tony and Julie Roberts own SERVPRO® of Pulaski and Laurel Counties. Anthony Roberts, Co- Owner of SERVPRO of Pulaski & Laurel Counties got his start with SERVPRO while in college as a Service Marketing Representative. He immediately felt a passion for the industry, and talked his bride-to-be into moving to London to start their own franchise in 2005. Along with Co-Owner Mike Parsons (also listed as a member of the Tuscany Pines LLC), Julie and Tony Roberts own two additional SERVPRO franchises.
As of press time, The Voice had made several unsuccessful attempts to contact Tony Roberts regarding Tuscany Pines.
Unconfirmed reports estimate the rent for a two bedroom apartment at Tuscany Apartments at approximately $225. Currently, four apartments are occupied, including one apartment with children present. One tenant, who asked to remain anonymous, said the apartment complex has been in the process of “demolition and remodel” for a lengthy period of time. The tenant indicated she felt most of the renters would like to live in better accommodations.
The Facebook page, Tuscany Pines, appears to have last been publicly active in 2020. Posts indicate an apparent caretaker’s attempt to improve the accommodations by tending to a small patch of grass, constructing a fire pit using broken rock and concrete block, and designating a play area.
According to Magistrate Strunk, another state inspection of Tuscany Pines is scheduled for this week with county officials expected to be present during the inspection.
Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming inspection of Tuscany Pines, one thing is certain. Four families are in need of proper housing. If Tuscany Pines is not condemned, the concerns of county officials regarding the safety of residents will not miraculously disappear. On the other hand, if the state orders the apartment complex vacated, four families will lose their homes and will need assistance in maneuvering the process of relocating. Frequently, renters do not know their rights and are easily taken advantage of during an ouster.
Simply put, the dilemma faced by the residents at Tuscany Pines shines a blaring spotlight on the need for more affordable housing in McCreary County as well as clear guidelines to the resources and options available to those living in potentially unsafe conditions.