Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

‘Fish or cut bait’

Council takes action to deal with blight house

Keith Vandervort
Posted 6/5/19

ELY –After almost five years of blight reports, inspections, negotiations with the owner, and last-chance ultimatums by the city council here, a solution appears to be on the horizon for a blighted …

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‘Fish or cut bait’

Council takes action to deal with blight house

Posted

ELY –After almost five years of blight reports, inspections, negotiations with the owner, and last-chance ultimatums by the city council here, a solution appears to be on the horizon for a blighted property on Shagawa Rd.

Following a public hearing Tuesday night, the city council unanimously approved a resolution to take the property owners to court if the blight conditions are not corrected by July 5. That action came after property owner Brian Sherwood “promised” to get most of his property at 21 W Shagawa Rd. back to a livable condition.

It’s a promise that council members had heard before, and they made it clear they want action, not words.

“This is a fish or cut bait situation,” said Mayor Chuck Novak, who was clearly frustrated with the continued discussion on the issue.

Council member Jerome Debeltz, who motioned for the resolution setting the deadline, was also eager for resolution. “We’ve been at this for many years and it would be nice to get rid of this problem,” he said.

City attorney Kelly Klun noted that the resolution calls for the abatement of as many as six specific blight conditions at the property, including removing the front and back porches, ensuring rafters and the roof are structurally sound, and the complete removal of the detached garage.

Previously, council members had agreed with city building official Doug Whitney that re-roofing and repairing the garage could be completed rather than razing the structure. In fact, Sherwood notified council members during the public hearing prior to the council meeting that he obtained a building permit that very day for the garage work.

At the opening of the public hearing, Sherwood asked for a continuance of the proceedings because he claimed he was not given a 10-day notice of the public hearing. The notice, however, was dated May 24, for a hearing on June 4.

He said he hoped to “do enough that is suitable, and that Doug (Whitney) and I can get an agreement where everyone is happy.”

He added, “I think that by your next meeting, I can get everything resolved, except for the front porch.” He said he wanted to complete the work on the front porch when the street reconstruction is finished.

Whitney reviewed the list of blight abatement items that have not been resolved. “The back porch that goes upstairs was just left hanging. The side porch is partially done but there is no railing. The garage roof is just sheeted and not shingled. The front porch was partially shingled,” he said.

“Basically, a whole lot has not happened in the last two years, and that’s why this is back before the council. He just comes back and asks for more time and still nothing happens,” Whitney said.

Council member Heidi Omerza noted that the homeowner should be awarded “some compassion,” but she also asked for compassion for the other residents in the neighborhood. “This is hard for me,” she said. “He was here many times since 2016. Do we just have faith that he will get this done in two weeks? Does this council have the courage to move forward on this? We didn’t last year.”

Novak asserted that he was ready to move on. “If you look at the number of times (Sherwood) has been before this council with the same issues and giving us promises that have never been fulfilled, it is very hard to give him more slack,” he said. “The neighbors will be livid if we don’t take action.”

Klun noted that the building code does provide for the issuing of penalties if a blight abatement order is not followed. “The original order from 2016, at a $100 per week fine, would be almost $12,000 in penalties that could be assessed,” she said.

The council did not have the appetite to assess the penalties to Sherwood. The unanimously approved the resolution declaring the property at 21 W Shagawa Rd. to be in blight condition, and will move for summary judgment in court if corrective action is not completed by July 5.

Sanitation

committee

With the city’s notice that it will not renew the waste disposal contract with G-Men Environmental Services when it expires at the end of the year, the business requested a meeting of the Sanitation Committee to discuss the issue.

Council member Albert Forsman suggested the council discuss the matter at a study session. Novak asked that all interested parties be allowed to attend and weigh in on the city’s waste disposal options.

“There are many advantages to our current system,” Forsman said. “I have my issues with some items in (the contract), but I think that the system that we have does work. We need to hear that other people feel that way. I continue to hear complaints, but I don’t know the scope of it.”

With the construction of the new trailhead facility on the west side of the city, residents are facing changes, or even the outright elimination, of the recycling material drop-off location, maintained by St. Louis County. Curbside recycling pick-up services may be called for in the city for both residents and businesses.

Other business

In other business, the council:

Approved temporary liquor licenses for the Ely Jaycees for Crapola Fest on June 29, for Music at the Bandshell on July 11, for the Blueberry Arts Festival, July 26-28, and the Ely Marathon, Sept. 21.

Hired Joe Shusta for the utility person position, pending background check and pre-employment screening.

Assigned Ely Police Officer Chad Houde as a temporary sergeant until Sgt. Koponen returns to duty following surgery.

Named a union contract negotiating committee as recommended from the Employee Relations Committee.

Issued a civil citation to the owners of the property at 79 W Chandler for ongoing blight conditions.

Agreed to purchase a 2019 RAM 2500 Tradesman from Mike Motors for $26,854. The vehicle will be used primarily for snowplowing.

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