A pair of Knox County residents on Thursday went before members of the Unsafe Building Board preparing to fight to keep their eyesore properties — but lost.
Board members heard yet again from Michael Brock, the owner of a dilapidated building at 2 E. Indiana 58 in Freelandville, one they’ve had their eye on for more than a year.
Over the last several months, they’ve given Brock multiple chances to make repairs, and last month he said he had someone interested in buying it, fixing it up. But when he came back Thursday without the purchase agreement board members had asked to see, they decided his time was officially up.
“We’ve given you third and fourth chances,” said board member and RQAW architect Lara Dawson, to which Brock responded saying the board was “costing him a $30,000 sale.”
“You had a year to fix it,” said board member John Bivens. “But you’ve just fiddled around with masonry work.”
Board members first started working with Brock on the building last summer, and initially he did meet their demands, such as removing what they thought was a dangerous chimney, among other minor repairs.
But then progress stalled, and board members worried about going into another winter; board member Mike Leech was particularly concerned about what the usual freezing and thawing would do to some already unstable parapet walls.
Brock, however, said he had someone interested in buying the building, but that the buyer had taken ill with COVID-19, even spent time in the hospital.
He’s better now, Brock told the board, but he couldn’t produce a purchase agreement between the two parties, and he declined to try to get the man on the phone so the board could ask questions of his intentions.
He also declined to provide the man’s last name in fear of squelching the eventual sale. He said only that the man understood the building’s deteriorating condition but wanted it anyway. His plan was to fix it up and open a convenience store there.
Board members, though, said they’d waited long enough.
“I’m sorry for the loss of the sale,” Dawson said, “but maybe he’ll buy the lot and put something there.”
The board also heard Thursday from John Hancock regarding a building he owns at 2 S. Anderson St. in Sandborn.
Sandborn officials, according to Mike Mikiska with the Solid Waste Management District and the Unsafe Building Board’s enforcement officer, recently launched a complaint about the building and want to see it razed.
“It’s right there on Main Street, so I understand,” Mikiska said. “It does look like it’s got a fresh coat of paint on it, but it’s got some structural issues.
“There’s no roof,” he said.
Hancock agreed that the building didn’t have a roof; it had fallen in long ago, and he’d cleared away the debris, he said.
He currently uses it for storage, he told the board, and he saw no reason why it needed a roof for that.
“I don’t see where it not having a roof is an issue,” he fervently told the board. “Would you put a roof on a privacy fence? That’s all it is.
“There’s no danger,” he went on. “It’s a solid building.”
But it’s still a structure, chimed in the board’s attorney, Bryan Jewel, and and as a result, county statute requires all structures to have a stable roof.
If not, they are considered dangerous and are at risk of being razed by county officials.
Hancock said he didn’t have the money to put a roof on it, at least not right now.
“But I don’t want you coming in and tearing it down,” he pleaded with the board.
Members, however, thought the building too much of a danger to let sit and opted to order demolition.
Upset at the board’s decision, Hancock indicated a desire to appeal.
Mikiska said he had likely at least a month — it takes at least that long to finish the necessary title work and bid the demolition out — to consult an attorney.
In still other business, the board also voted to tear down yet another home owned by a Wheatland man, David Watson.
This home is at 432 W. Main St., and while Watson, who is 86, wasn’t in attendance, a woman saying she was there to represent him said he had no qualms with the board razing this particular house.
He only wanted to keep the adjacent garage, and board members agreed as long as efforts were made to secure it.
The board in February voted to move forward with the demolition of two other of Watson’s properties, 542 Main St. and 512 Main St., due to their deteriorating conditions.
The board first spoke with Watson about those properties in November of 2019, gave him several months to make repairs, but opted to move ahead with razing them after no progress was made.
The board also issued demolition orders on structures at 12874 N. Second St. in Westphalia, 1011 Illinois St. in Bicknell, and 101 N. Third St. and 203 W. Church St., both in Decker.
So far this year, Mikiska said they’d spent $188,532 on demolitions, and more will be spent before the end of the year.
He anticipates the demolition of Brock’s building in Freelandville will cost tens of thousands of dollars.
“So I anticipate we’ll spend all our money, if not more,” he told the board.
The Unsafe Building Ordinance, which was passed by the commissioners in 2019, 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, if necessary.
When Mikiska receives a complaint, he first notifies the owners of said property via certified letter and asks that the issues at hand be resolved within 30 days. If they don’t comply, he takes the property 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.
The commissioners, however, have said that money will not roll over to the next year, and Mikiska said he recently got in touch with town officials to make sure they knew that. That’s the reason the board considered the fates of about a dozen properties Thursday night.
“I told them if they had properties they wanted us to consider, they needed to send me the complaints right away,” Mikiska said. “And, boy, did they send me houses.”