Members of the Unsafe Building Board on Thursday took the initial steps in “graduating” the first property owner from its program.
Board members have, for months, been working with Michael Brock on mitigating problems with a large brick building he owns at 2 E. Ind. 58 in Freelandville.
Last month, he was issued something of a final warning to remove what they deemed a dangerous chimney and a portion of the building's brick facade. He was also directed to make repairs to the roof and put caution tape around the areas of most concern.
This month, board members were pleased to see significant improvements and will now hire an engineer to reinspect the building. If deemed structurally sound, they will officially release Brock from the risk of demolition.
“This is a first for us,” said Mike Mikiska with the Solid Waste Management District and the one charged with enforcing the county’s new program aimed at eliminating unsightly and dangerous structures. “He’s made progress — most of the (original) damage I can see has been repaired.”
Board member Lara Dawson agreed that “drastic improvements” had been made since last month.
“It seems like we’re there — or at least pretty near there,” said board president Mike Leech as he leafed through three updated photos of the property.
“I see a big difference from this first photo,” said board member John Bivens.
The Unsafe Building Board has been meeting since early this year to discuss properties deemed dangerous in incorporated areas of Knox County.
The Unsafe Building Ordinance was passed by the county commissioners last summer. Later, they constituted a board to oversee it.
The ordinance looks to more efficiently handle complaints of eyesore and dangerous properties and it designates $250,000 per year from the county's capital improvement fund to spend razing them.
When Mikiska receives a complaint, he takes it to the board for consideration. If they approve, the proper title work is done, the house demolished and a lien placed on the property.
County officials, too, have reached inter-local agreements with unincorporated smaller towns like Monroe City, Sandborn, Wheatland, Decker, Bruceville, Edwardsport and Oaktown to allow them the much-needed help, too.
Each gets up to $10,000 per year to spend.
So far, the board has only torn down one house, although a few others are in the queue as county attorney Yvette Kirchoff does the appropriate title work.
Many owners, however, have responded to the county’s intent to demolish and shown up willing to do their part in getting their properties cleaned up, as was the case with Brock.
The board also voted to give an additional 30 days to the owner of a house at 7522 E. University Drive, Vincennes. Mikiska has called the property a “jungle” in that the original structure is completely hidden by trees and brush. The board has been working with the owner for several months to clear the trees and demolish the home but decided to give the family one final chance to see the lot cleared.
The board is currently working with 13 other homeowners to clean up problem properties across the county.
Members did decide, however, to move forward with the demolition of a handful of other houses, including a trio of houses on Illinois Street in Bicknell.
The board approved those demolitions months ago, but Kirchoff said now that the title work is complete they’re slated for a tax sale next month. Even so, the board opted to move forward with razing them anyway.
A house in Westphalia — 16912 E. Ind. 58 — the board also voted to demolish this month.
Other houses at 108 E. Seventh St., 801 S. Buchanan St. and 506 S. Buchanan St. in Monroe City have previously been approved for demolition and have now been through the bidding process, Mikiska said.
All will be demolished soon for a total of $12,500.
That means Monroe City town officials spent all of its allotted $10,000 for this year and will contribute $2,500 from its own general fund.
Another home — or what remains of it — at 203 E. Shipping St. in Edwardsport has already been cleared for a total of $1,200.