11/14/2013 4:37:00 PM Council moves ahead on structural engineer report
by COLLEEN KASTANEK
Center City’s November council meeting, held Monday last week to accommodate Tuesday’s school ballot, was brief. The short agenda, addressed in an hour and 19 minutes, had but two motions in addition to approving the consent agenda and adjournment. City Attorney Peter Grundhoefer advised the council on actions to take on the nuisance property at 508 Park Island Road. “The Manor” was built as a hotel (photo right) in 1900, then years later converted to a group home that closed in 2003. It has been vacant since and is a subject of complaint from nearby homeowners. The 6900 square foot two-story building is marketed as a multi-family home suitable for renovation or complete teardown on a scenic eight-tenth acre lot that can be split. Taxes are current, Grundhoefer said, and the owner, Laurence Merhiy, is cooperating with the city, although he has not attended council meetings to address complaints. Merhiy, from Blaine, purchased the building in 2008. In a phone interview with the Press the day after council met, Merhiy stated several times that he is “willing to take care of things.” He purchased the property just as the economy turned and the $30,000 to $35,000 price tag to demolish the building became prohibitive.
He added that a buyer considering renovation looked at the property recently. Regarding the question as to why he has not attended council meetings on the matter, he said he was unaware of previous meetings and that he has a business obligation some evenings. (Merhiy runs an auction Monday evenings) At a special meeting on October 10, the council agreed to have a structural engineer enter the property to investigate its condition. Grundhoefer had the signed consent form and said the council last week could proceed with hiring a structural engineer. City staff presented two quotes close in price. The council unanimously approved Madonna Higgins’ motion to hire a local firm, Becklin and Whitney Consulting Engineers, Inc. to do the investigation and to include the city maintenance supervisor, fire chief and building inspector and owner in the walk-through of the property. William Becklin estimated investigation and report will take about five hours at $120 per hour. He will determine if the building is structurally deficient and must be demolished, or, if it can be restored and what needs to be done to bring it into compliance with Center City building code. Grundhoefer explained that the city’s response will be determined by the engineer’s report and is addressed in Chapter 63 of the city’s hazardous building statute. The city can set a time limit for the repair or demolition, but at this time the city’s only responsibility is to secure the building. The council directed the city clerk to keep a running total on expenses addressing this property and to send the first bill to Merhiy.
The council discussed inquiries from two Chisago Lake Township property owners near the County Highway Building. They have requested an estimate for extending sewer and water to their parcels. City engineer Les Mateffy offered a cost estimate of $183,000, commenting that generally extending municipal services (into rural areas) is more expensive for landowners than installing private septic and water. There are several other properties, not in the city limits, that could benefit from municipal services extension. The council directed city staff to send letters of inquiry to these property owners to ask if they are interested in city services and to include Chisago Lake Township Board in the correspondence. The council’s second motion was to certify Per Road and return the “jailhouse” water and sewer extension fund to the county. The $375,000 CD was being held by the city for the law enforcement center construction which has been tabled by the county. The council heard several short reports. The cleanup on a North Main Street property is progressing. Council member Scott Anderson reported that Boy Scout Troop 135 has completed spreading tamarack chips at Water Tower Park and I.G. Long Parks. The troop adopted I.G. Long Park and cleaned its hockey rink as well. City Maintenance Supervisor Eric Garner reported that the city is ready for winter and that, except for installing plant materials, the rain garden in Lorens Park will be done before winter.