Building department may begin ordering demolition of blighted houses in Craig
The city of Craig is facing a problem usually associated with large cities: urban blight caused when buildings fall into disrepair and are left to decay.
After researching how other towns and cities have addressed the problem of derelict buildings, Marlin Eckoff, Craig’s building inspector, has learned “every city is having the same problem, and it’s growing.”
To be considered blighted, properties must meet certain criteria.
“It’s hard, legally, to tear down if it’s just an eyesore,” Eckoff said, adding, “it has to be down to the point that it’s not safe.”
Eckoff told a group of Craig City Council members, city staff, and the public who attended the city Economic Development Committee on Monday, Feb. 18, that he plans to seek council approval of a process that would see some of Craig’s most blighted buildings demolished.
The goal, he said, is to address a minimum of four derelict properties in 2019 and establish an efficient and effective process before addressing other structures in future years. Eckoff has already identified the first group of five former residential properties for consideration.
If council members approve the process, it will be many months before any wrecking balls start swinging around town.
Demolition orders would allow owners between 30 to 90 days to remedy the situation before the city would step in to remove the structures.
In researching ownership of the five identified properties, Eckoff discovered one is being renovated by a new owner, removing it from his list. A second owner has already made plans for demolition and is working to ensure the demolition happens as planned.
Three other properties remain in question.
Owners unavailable or unwilling to provide a remedy in a timely manner will risk being issued a demolition order sent to the owner of record via certified mail, a legal notice in the newspaper when a mailing address is not available, and/or a notice posted on the property.
After notice of demolition has been properly executed, the city would need to test the structure for possible asbestos, remediate if needed. Only after these steps have been taken could the structure be demolished.
The city has set aside $30,000 in the building department budget to address the problem of derelict buildings.
If the city moves forward, Eckoff estimates it will cost $10,000 to $15,000 per property, excluding asbestos abatement costs.
If asbestos is present, depending on the extent of any required mitigation, demolition costs could blow-out, potentially costing tens of thousands of dollars.
“The only way to get started is for the property to get tested,” City Manager Peter Brixius said.
Eckoff is considering asking council to incentivize asbestos testing by paying testing fees to the tune of $1,500 to $2,000 per property, regardless of who — the city or property owner — carries out the demolition. He hopes results from such tests might empower owners to move forward with demolition on their own.
If the city is left to foot the bill, it could attempt to recoup costs by either placing a tax lien on the property or adding demolition costs to the property tax.
“I don’t know if there is gonna be a silver bullet to recoup money,” Eckoff said.
In some cases, the city may opt to purchase properties outright through tax lien sales or contracts, or acquire them through the condemnation process. City ownership would allow for conversion to green space or redevelopment under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Program.
Brownfields are “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant,” according to the EPA, which offers grants to assist in cleanup and redevelopment of qualifying sites.
“Having ownership and a good redevelopment plan was needed for Brownfields grants,” Eckoff said.
The next step is for Eckoff to present a proposal for city-subsidized asbestos testing and demolition orders for the first properties to the city council for approval.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.
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