JOPLIN, Mo. —
A heart-tugging drama unfolded Monday night in the Joplin City Council chambers as residents unsuccessfully pleaded for the council to reject a proposal to place a hold on the rebuilding of their homes.
The city staff, trying to deal with acres of residential rubble, proposed a 90-day hold on building permits for the construction of new houses in the heaviest damaged part of the city while it undergoes a government cleanup called “expedited debris removal.” That issue drew comments from four people, and the council ultimately imposed a 60-day hold on rebuilding.
Creed Jones, vice president of human resources at EaglePicher Technologies, said he and his family lost their home, as did 57 other employees of the company. Many others sustained damage or were otherwise affected by the devastation, he said.
The company employs highly skilled experts in the field of energy and battery technology, and they already are being recruited by other companies to leave Joplin, Jones said. They may be inclined to take those offers if they cannot rebuild here quickly, he said.
“Don’t do this to those people who have already suffered so much,” Jones told the council as he choked back tears. He suggested that the city instead expedite building permits.
Larry Elder, who lives on South Monroe Avenue, said he could salvage the basement of his house and the floor that covers it if he could get to work quickly to erect a roof and walls around it. He said other area cities stricken by tornadoes have not imposed similar restrictions. “It sends the wrong message to developers,” he said. “It sends the wrong message to people who have lost everything.”
Darren Collins, of Galena, Kan., a builder whose wife owns a beauty salon on South Byers Avenue that was destroyed, said people do not understand why business buildings can be rebuilt but homes cannot. He said houses will be erected in other area towns to attract those who are delayed in Joplin. He asked the city to limit building activity block by block as debris removal is conducted instead of instituting a blanket hold.
Susan Butler said she lost her home on South Iowa Avenue and her law office on East 20th Street. “This property moratorium is a devastating blow to those who have lost everything,” she said.
A 90-day hold could mean that residents could not start building until September, and then could be delayed by cold weather or run out of money when insurance payments for rent expire.
Butler said the city has cited safety issues as one reason for the hold, but she questioned whether anyone understood what was unsafe about building on existing home lots.
Their comments drew applause from the audience.