Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Blight returns to council agenda

Keith Vandervort
Posted 5/23/19

ELY – With the melting snow and the growing grass comes the annual renewal of the blight season in Ely. City council members here discussed two familiar properties this week and vowed to act …

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Blight returns to council agenda

Posted

ELY – With the melting snow and the growing grass comes the annual renewal of the blight season in Ely. City council members here discussed two familiar properties this week and vowed to act quickly this year to dispense with the eyesores.

Building official Doug Whitney provided updated photographs and an inspection report for a property on 21 W Shagawa Road, owned by Brian and Michele Sherwood, that indicate little or no improvement in the last two years.

He also forewarned the council that another property at 79 W.Chandler is supposed to be vacated but is reportedly still occupied by the owners despite having no water or electric service.

“As to the ongoing issue at 21 W Shagawa Road, Mayor Chuck Novak asked, “We have updated photographs and zero progress, what action would the council like to take?”

Whitney said the issues with the Sherwood couple go back as far as 2016. “They came to the council and they were granted more time. They were given a deadline of May 2017, and in two years virtually nothing has been done.”

His inspection report, dated May 15, 2019, lists that property as having hazardous and unsafe buildings. A laundry list of required renovations to the house and garage shows that just a partial roof was installed on the house. The roof and rafters appear to be sound but the work has not been inspected. He noted the side porch was removed and replaced with a partially finished deck. Other required work appears to be initiated but not completed.

Council member Al Forsman asked what the next step would be at this property, according to city code.

“It calls for demolition,” Novak said.

City Attorney Kelly Klun explained that a blight order exists for the property. “You can revise the notice for 2019 and indicate you are executing the order this year,” she said. She noted that the city can order the improvement work to be completed and the cost would be assessed to the property taxes.

Forsman made a motion to reissue the enforcement order with a 30-day response deadline.

“That would give the owners a chance to respond,” Klun said.

Council member Heidi Omerza pointed out that the property has been inspected as many as four times. “Shame on us,” she said. “Are we in uncharted territory here? He’s not working with (the city). He probably thinks we forgot about him.”

Novak noted that he continuously hears from folks who live around the property. “They have a right to be mad at the council if we don’t take action on this,” he said. “Put yourself in the neighbors’ shoes and it gives you a different perspective. We’re elected to make tough decisions. I think there has been an ample opportunity here to remedy the deficiencies that have been highlighted.”

Council members agreed to reissue the blight property enforcement order giving the Sherwoods 30 days to correct the situation.

Whitney also updated the council on the situation at 79 W. Chandler St.

“We’ve received numerous complaints about the property over the last few months,” he said. “The owner had permission to work on the property, and virtually nothing has been done.”

Police Chief John Lahtonen reported that neighbors have complained about the blighted property. “They are very upset. I had an 80-year-old man in tears. He said, ‘It’s not fair.’ He keeps his yard in shape, yet he has to look at what’s next door. He also told us about pipes installed in the backyard to deal with liquid human waste. What do you want me to tell these people?”

Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski said the city has had at least a 95-percent compliance rate on the blight ordinance but that a handful of residents don’t seem to get the message. “We just need the council to support our efforts as we move forward.”

Novak agreed. “What’s the point of having an ordinance if we are not going to enforce it?”

Whitney said he would proceed with the inspection report for the Chandler Avenue property and submit the documents to the council.

Other action

In other action, the council:

Approved a 4th of July Music on the Beach family event at Semer’s Park from 6-9 p.m.

Approved the design and construction for the cemetery informational kiosk at a cost not to exceed $30,000.

Approved the Social Media Policy as presented with the provision that no comments would be allowed on the city’s Facebook page.

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