Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Council approves demo of two more blighted homes

Third blighted property owner given more time

Keith Vandervort
Posted 10/5/16

ELY – Ely City Council members took the city building official’s recommendation and voted this week to deem as health hazards two of three properties in the city and to move ahead with steps to …

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Council approves demo of two more blighted homes

Third blighted property owner given more time

Posted

ELY – Ely City Council members took the city building official’s recommendation and voted this week to deem as health hazards two of three properties in the city and to move ahead with steps to demolish them.

In a show of good faith, council members opted to give one property owner more time to work on cleaning up his property.

At a public hearing last week, Doug Whitney outlined the condition of the three properties, located at 327 E. Chapman St., 21 W. Shagawa Rd., and 1322 N. 18th Ave. E. The council heard testimony and reviewed evidence relating to the structures, but took no immediate action.

The council, on Tuesday, passed separate resolutions on each property and agreed to move forward with city code enforcement of the properties described as in blight condition.

In each case, the structures have suffered from years of neglect, are beyond repair and should come down, Whitney said.

At 327 E. Chapman St., a notice of maintenance of private property dated March 10, 2016, stated: the dwelling has been vacant for at least 10 years; the building is infested with unknown animals; frozen and broken water lines have caused extensive damage to the interior; water has permeated the structure and ice was found throughout the interior; ceilings have collapsed; ice and water have damaged interior walls, ceilings, floors and have done unknown damage to the structure; the roof leaks; fascias and soffits are falling off; garbage and debris fills the building; exterior is in a state of disrepair; windows are rotted and in disrepair; and the foundation has failed.

The structure at 1322 N. 18th Ave E. in Spaulding, is owned by Carrie Kemp and also poses a health risk.

A notice of maintenance of private property, dated April 14, 2016, stated: the sewer has failed; raw sewage has been running on the property to the south; city sewer is available but not connected. “It appears this property has been completely abandoned,” Whitney said. “The owners have the (financial) means to make the connections.”

Council members approved resolutions declaring those two properties as blight, pursuant to the Ely City Code, and authorized steps be taken to demolish them.

Similar conditions were found at the property at 21 W. Shagawa Rd. Property owner Brian Sherwood was present at the public hearing and asked for more time to make repairs. He was also present this week in a show of good faith that he intends to clean up his property.

The notice of maintenance, dated April 21, 2016, stated: the building and property have suffered from inadequate maintenance, physical deterioration, dilapidation, obsolescence and are fire hazard; the buildings and property are filled with personal property, junk, trash and debris; the property contains abandoned or junk vehicles; the property has suffered from overall neglect.

At the public hearing, Whitney said little was done at the property since the city notified Sherwood of the blight conditions. “I’m going to try and do as much as I can before winter and hopefully next spring,” Sherwood said. He said he refused to allow Whitney inside the property.

Police Chief John Lahtonen agreed with Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski on gaining access to the property. “It has been the same argument every year for the last 10 years. We need to get it cleaned up,” he said.

In clearly orchestrated agreement, no council member would make a motion Tuesday to declare Sherwood’s property as blight. Instead, with a wink and a nod from Mayor Chuck Novak, city attorney Kelly Klun recommended the matter be put on the table for the council to discuss. “We do need to talk about the condition of the property and the direction you would like to take,” she said.

On a motion from Al Forsman, the council agreed to discuss the property.

Council member Jerome Debeltz said he was in favor of giving Sherwood more time. “He has appeared before the council and said he hopes to get his roof fixed and clean up the property,” he said.

Klun said Sherwood had obtained a building permit. “He’s willing to renovate, at least the external, items on the property. That is something that we could add to the findings of fact,” she said. “We can certainly give him a time frame relative to completion of those items.”

The building permit is valid for six months.

Whitney stressed the fact that he needs to gain access to the inside of the house to determine the structural integrity of the damaged roof area for the installation of a new roof. “The shingles are in bad shape. Wood has been exposed to water and could be damaged,” he said.

“Some progress has been made by Mr. Sherwood and I would support a specific timeline (to complete the work),” he said.

Sherwood, Klun, and Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski will establish a timeline prior to the Oct. 18 council meeting, for the work to be completed.

Police Department staffing

Through a recommendation from the council’s employee relations committee, council members considered the staff shortage in the Police Department, and approved the internal posting for a sergeant position.

The vacancy has existed for some 18 months because of the suspension of Sgt. Jason Carlson.

Carlson, 37, of Aurora, is challenging the state’s grand jury indictment on charges of third-degree criminal sexual conduct while in a position of authority. He has been on paid administrative leave since last spring and the Ely Police Department remains short-staffed until the case is resolved.

“Chief Lahtonen needs a second sergeant,” Debeltz said.

“I have a concern of a future dilemma,” Novak said. “As the case moves through the court system, if the case is dismissed or he is found not guilty, the employee is back to his original employment as if nothing has happened. I don’t know the legal basis where we can say we filled the position.”

Klun responded, “In the event there is an acquittal the city would have to take him back in employment.”

She said the data or evidence in the case would be made available in the event of an acquittal. “The city could then make a determination of whether or not (Carlson’s) actions were in violation of his employment contract. It would then be an employment matter.”

Last month, Judge Gary Pagliacetti denied Carlson’s request in State District Court that the felony sex misconduct charge be dismissed. The case appears headed to a jury trial. No trial date has been set.

“I think the chief needs a full staff,” Novak said. The council voted unanimously to approve the internal posting for the position.

Other business

In other business, the council took the following action:

•Rescheduled a public hearing regarding a blight property at 1555 19th Ave. E for Nov. 1 at 5 p.m.;

•Rescheduled a public hearing regarding Ordinance 306 Point of Sale Certification for Nov. 1 at 5:30 p.m.;

•Refused to consider payment of $1,764 in dues for membership in the Minnesota Association of Small Cities;

•Approved the minimum wage increase for the Fire Department to $9.50 per hour.

•Went into closed session to discuss a counter offer from the Data Center Group, Inc. regarding the Community Center purchase.

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