Property declared hazard

Published 1:14 pm Saturday, April 18, 2009

Approval is sought from the Austin City Council to permit removal of debris at the Maria Leon property, the site where the Jan. 15 downtown fire originated.

The city planning and zoning department has reported that the property owner, whose address is listed as Worthington, Minn., was notified the site — the Mi Tierra grocery store, clothing store and restaurant, 400 to 406 North Main St. — is a public nuisance and health hazard. Leon has not taken action to clean it up.

Craig Hoium, community development director, stated in a letter to Leon dated April 13 that the city has been receiving complaints regarding the “building debris, health hazard, public nuisance and rat harborage” at the site. An investigation was conducted April 9.

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The public nuisance and health hazards relate to the glass, rats and debris located within the private property and the adjacent right-of-way.

“I have talked to people who have indicated that they have seen rats in that area,” Hoium said Friday.

“We’ve talked to her (Leon); we’ve talked to the insurance company; we’ve talked to her attorney,” he said.

City code states that if the “accumulation of refuse constitutes an immediate and imminent health hazard,” the city can collect charges from the property owner; if not collected within a reasonable time, the bill can be levied as an assessment.

In a memorandum to the mayor and city council from city engineer Jon Erichson, he said perishable items and dry goods are still in place at the Mi Tierra grocery store. The property owner’s attorney said it will be cleaned up, but no action was taken as of Tuesday.

The city has contracted with a pest control contractor to conduct an abatement. Proposals were submitted to bait and maintain traps for $40 per month for all properties in the fire area. The city has boarded up some windows and will secure other portions of the store, Erichson said.

If the city council wants to expedite the process through the Hazardous Building Ordinance, there is a risk that any costs incurred could not be recovered.

Hoium said if the council approves on Monday the cleanup of the Leon property, the city will advertise for bids.

The former Top Ten Nails building site is scheduled for demolition by Bustad Excavating this week. The work will be paid for and the work contracted by the owner. Hoium said the owner has a three-year lease at their new location, the Donut Connection building, but he doesn’t know his plans. He has indicated an interest in redeveloping the property, however.

Meetings have been conducted with the owner of Marty’s R-C & Hobbycraft. The building sustained major smoke and water damage. The second floor windows need repair and the south exterior wall needs a weather-resistive barrier cover, which cannot be installed until the Top Ten Nails building has been removed. According to the memorandum from Erichson, the fire department has received escrow dollars from the property owner’s insurance company to assure the improvements are completed.

“There’s really not any structural damage to that building,” Hoium said of Marty’s. “Most was water and smoke. They are working on cleaning things up on the inside of the building.”

As for what will happen to the Leon property if it is cleaned up, Hoium said that is not the city’s decision.

“Just because we clean it up doesn’t mean we own it,” he said.