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City takes on two demolition projects

by Tom Coombe

Two blighted properties in Ely are set to be demolished, but the city will spend nearly $50,000 to do it.

Council members voted Tuesday to accept a $47,882 bid from the G Men to demolish structures at:

• 726 East Camp Street;

• 131 Central Avenue.

Both properties are unoccupied, have been tax-forfeited and cited for blight.

Yet council members lamented the circumstances related to their decision this week.

Because of a Supreme Court ruling, the city is responsible for the demolition costs rather than St. Louis County, which now owns the properties.

The city has the ability to  recover those funds should the properties be sold, but council member Paul Kess said this week “they’ll probably never sell and we’ll eat (the demolition costs).”

“We take on the expense and they (the county) sell it and we’re forced to clean it up,” said Kess.

Harold Langowski, the city’s clerk-treasurer and operations director, appeared to agree with Kess’s assessment but noted “these projects have been on the docket for a couple years, maybe longer.”

“We know a lot of these properties that go tax forfeit require demolition,” said Langowski.

For nearly a decade, the city has stepped up its efforts to combat blight and have pursued the demolition of several structures.

Meanwhile, a third property could also face the wrecking ball.

Council members talked about a structure at 45 East Boundary Street that was damaged by fire in September and deemed “uninhabitable” by city building official Doug Whitney.

The city pressed the property owners,  Jason Gillson of Ely and Vickie Herman of Jacobson, for corrective action in early-October and nothing appears to have been done.

City officials are looking to gain access to the property for further review and potentially corrective action.

Whitney said a wood stove was placed and vented through a broken kitchen window, and that there’s a propane tank present that “represents a concern to the structure as well as neighboring parcels.”

Langowski said that currently “the property is unheated and there will be additional damage.”

Gillson was arrested and charged with several crimes after he allegedly started the home on fire Sept. 13, and led law enforcement officials on a high-speed chase.

City attorney Kelly Klun told council members that the city could be looking at additional costs to demolish the Boundary Street structure, on top of the funds approved this week to raze the two other structures.

In other business Tuesday, the council:

• Approved a motion to train Scott Kochendorfer and Janet Dunnom for filling the police department assistant position.

Kochendorfer is already filling in as a part-time police officer and serves as zoning administrator, and Dunnom has worked as an election judge.

“To have staff trained in these roles is very helpful,” said Langowski.

• Heard from Kess that the Tourism Bureau had turned down a request from the Lodging Tax Board to distribute some lodging tax proceeds to help groups promote and market existing events.

Kess said that the Lodging Tax Board, a joint powers group that funnels lodging tax proceeds to the Tourism Bureau, would meet again with the group with hopes of “persuading them.”

“I hope the discussions will be fruitful,” said Kess. “We meet again next Monday.”

• Approved a recommendation from the telecommunications advisory board and agreed to spend $12,000 on new public access television equipment.

Langowski noted that ElyTV, operated by Todd Crego, is looking for camera operators to record local sporting events to be aired on the public access channel.

• Nominated Kess to serve on the board of directors of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools.

• Approved a Sunday liquor license for the Kwazy Wabbit, pending receipt of required paperwork and fees.

• Approved a charitable gambling permit for the Ely Igloo Snowmobile Club at the Kwazy Wabbit.

• Granted the Ely Folk School a temporary liquor license for a Dec. 5 event at Semers Park.

• Approved permits for the Knights of Columbus to hold bingo games at St. Anthony’s this month and again Dec. 17.

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