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  • Writer's pictureBill Raines

Historic Buildings Escape Condemnation Proceedings in Local Government

Updated: Apr 12, 2023

LAWRENCE COUNTY - APRIL 4, 2023 - Historic buildings have escaped condemnation proceedings in most cases in Lawrence County's Municipal governments.



While letters, fines and actions on small property owners who do not have the ability to fight city hall and their city council members on these types of proceedings, find themselves not so lucky.


Most municipal governments win in the court rooms to enforce their ordinances and code enforcement on property owners.


In the town of Oolitic; more than six property owners will be receiving letters to get their properties up to curb appeal or face the fines, and legal ramifications for not doing so.


Jon Broglin, Oolitic Town Council member told the told council members the town will be enforcing ordinances and addressing abandoned vehicles and other ordinance violations. He will be notifying the town marshal which properties will need to be fixed up and brought up to code.


However, one piece of property keeps from facing the threat of the same fines, and enforcement of the town officials, but seems to escape the enforcement of such is the Oolitic North Building.


The Oolitc North Main building has escaped the Town of Oolitic from actually condemning the building by their own ordinances and procedures several times through the last five years.


The blighted building has been transferred from Tim Stark to Jim Deckard following a potential condemnation from town officials in May 2021.


The hearing addressed concerns about structural integrity of the building, hiring of a structural engineer. The building working with Mr. Stark, numerous times to try and save the historic building.


Oolitic Town Council members stated at the time that Mr. Stark has not made any attempts to address any structural concerns with the building. Town officials stating the roof is leaking and the outside of the building is crumbling.


The building was sold to Jim Deckard, who owns Deckard Heating and Cooling purchased the building in 2022 in hopes of using the business for his home health company, apartments, and other future plans.


" We are fortunate to have someone local, coming in to take over the building," said Jon Broglin, town council member following the purchase.


However, since the time of the purchase one year ago, there has been no effort to get the building renovated, and the town sent letters to Deckard requesting he get the outside of the building up to curb appeal. No other action has been enforced on Deckard to get the building up to code.



Elks Club Bedford on K Street


One of the buildings in Bedford that has escaped condemnation proceeding is the Bedford Elks Club at the intersection of 15th and K Streets in Bedford. The building has been in disrepair for several years.



The property has been deeded to the Bedford Urban Enterprise Association who is responsible for the building. The building is considered a historic landmark. However, the building has been in disrepair for several years.



However, the Goff Refrigeration building on 16th Street did not escape the condemnation proceedings by the City of Bedford. The 1898 building was eventually saved by Indiana Landmarks who took possession of the building and sold it.


In August 2019, the city of Bedford took possession of the Gogg building located at 1018 16th Street which was condemned by the City of Bedford in August of 2016.



On August 2016, the City of Bedford received reports there were bricks falling from the structure. Plan Commissioner Dan Kirk found bricks that were falling around the structure. A letter was immediately sent to the owners of the building. The owner did not respond to the letter.


On August 16, 2016, the Bedford Federal Savings Bank notified the city the would not lend any money for the building.


On August 17, 2016, the building was condemned by the City of Bedford following an inspection by the Bedford Fire Department inspector and city code inspectors.


On September 9, 2016, a formal condemnation proceeding took place. No one showed up for the hearing. The building was officially condemned by the city.


The loan was written off to the bank.


Greg Sekula of Indiana Landmarks was asked if they was interested in the building and preserving the building. It would have cost the City of Bedford more than $250,000 to have the building demolished, and there were more than $38,000 in liens on the property. The property was up for tax sale on September 9, 2019.


The building was eventually deeded to Indiana Landmarks and the liens were waived by the City of Bedford.


The discussion comes after the property owner at 621 Main Street escaped the City of Mitchell condemnation proceedings and ordinances. Almost one year prior to the partial building collapse concerns about the structural integrity of the building were communicated to the City of Mitchell, according to some residents.


Photo: The property located at 621 Main Street in Mitchell escaped building code enforcement, fines and condemnation proceedings that most residents and business owners do not


One week, prior to the building collapse concerns were communicated to the Lawrence County Zephyr about the safety of the public, due to issues with the structure.


In November 2022, after a heavy rain that hit the area, the building had a partial collapse which caused a gas leak. The main street area had to be evacuated for several hours and businesses were closed for the day.


Photo: Area around Main Street had to be evacuated by members of the Mitchell and Marion Township Volunteer Fire Departments


During the Mitchell City Council meeting on Monday night, several ordinances are being reviewed for the city council to enforce upon its citizens.


However, the Mitchell City Council did not enforce the building code ordinances that are enforced upon the residents themselves. The fees for grass enforcement wil be $150 as imposed by the Mitchell Board of Works.


But, because the concerns of the historical significance and worries of the big gapping whole on Mitchell's downtown. The city did not want to enforce fines, ordinance violations, or condemnation proceedings on the property.


Photo: Mitchell residents had to be evacuated following a gas leak caused by a building collapse. The prorperty owner escaped the code enforcement and ordiance violations by the City of Mitchell


"On the November 9, 2023, Bill was told to hold off on the paperwork until he got more up to date and more detailed information. After that there was no other letters sent to the property owner. Bill was in contact with them and did not go in depth with the property owners on the fees. Now, I think at this time, the property owner has quite bit of capital to rebuild," said Larry Caudell Mitchell City Council and acting Mayor.


" He has the money to rebuild, and is waiting on his contractor to start, and the Indiana State Fire Marshal's Office instructed the contractor to begin the work. As the property owner explained to the fire marshal. The fire marshal stated he would sign off on the work when it was completed," said Mayor Nathan Jenkins.


" Yes, looking back we could have fined him, but if we slapped a fine on him, we would have be owning the building," said Caudell.


Sadly, the City of Mitchell is more concerned with curb appeal, lawns being mowed and enforcing nuisances of neighbors to neigbors than the public safety of the community in a broad scheme of things.


The Old National building across the street is in need of same scrutiny and building code enforcement as 621 Main Street in Mitchell. However, many businesses and property owners of these properties get a free pass from the city councils.


Most property owners who reside under a Plan Commission do not get a free pass on code enforcement; they are only given a certain amount of time to get the properties to the place to were code enforcement has requested them to be.


Many of these properties are blighted just like the many homes that are targeted by the city councils, county commissioners and neighbors who live beside them.


LAND BANKING WILL TAKE CARE OF THE REST OF THE BLIGHT IN LAWRENCE COUNTY


While some properties are not on the list of these government officials, some properties may be for the taking by the government itself. Many properties which are considered blight, may be taken over by Lawrence County officials.


Lawrence County does not have a Plan Commission or Code Enforcement.


The Lawrence County Commissioners passed a resolution to join other Southern Indiana Counties to join Land banking.


Lawrence County Commissioners approve a resolution for land banking - Left to right - Wally Branham, Rodney Fish, and President Dustin Gabhart



The Lawrence County Commissioners recognizing that there is a large number of tax delinquent properties which are non-revenue generating, vacant or dilapidated and the properties contribute to blight, and deterioration of the rural areas outside the incorporated areas of City of Bedford, City of Mitchell and Town of Oolitic.


The State of Indiana enacted legislation on July 1, 2016, in Senate Enrolled Act 232 which added the legislation in 36-7-38 allowing the use of land banks.


Each county that joins the Regions Land Bank will have a representative from each county, and each county will be able to add a minimum of $5,000 as seed money for the projects.


Money from the APRA can also be used for land banking. Lawrence County has received a total of $8.8 Million in APRA funding.



HOW DOES A LAND BANK WORK?


Land banks are designed to acquire problems properties and then transfer them back to responsible ownership and productive use in accordance with local land use goals and priorities, creating a more efficient and effective system to eliminate blight.


In order to accomplish these tasks, land banks are granted special powers and legal authority pursuant to state enabling statues. Generally, the statues garant land banks the following powers.

  • Obtain property at low or no cost through the tax foreclosure process

  • Hold land tax free

  • Clear title and extinguish back taxes

  • Lease properties for temporary uses

  • Negotiate sales based not only on the highest bid but also on the outcome that mostly aligns with community needs, such as workforce housing, a grocery store, or expanded recreational space.

HOW WILL THE REBUILD INDIANA UPLANDS LAND BANK BE CREATED


  • A Not-for-profit entity will establish a Regional Land Bank

  • Counties will purchase services of the land bank to establish the program and start moving eligible sites into the land bank. Land banks are created by public entities by a local resolution, interlocal agreements between counties and establishing a article of incorporation.

  • Land bank boards will ideally have one member per county appointed by the count

  • A local advisory committee will give recommendations to priority sites

WHAT KIND OF PROPERTIES DO LAND BANK ACQUIRE


Most Land bank acquisitions are vacant, residential, tax delinquent properties. In addition, to tax foreclosed parcels, land banks can acquire real estate owned properties and receive private donations and public land transfers. Although most properties are typically vacant land transfers. Although most properties are typically vacant residential single-family homes or vacant lots, land banks can also acquire multifamily dwellings, commercial and industrial properties, and in rare cases, occupied rental properties. The South Indiana Development Corporation would work with the land bank or brownfield sites to acquire large scale, former industrial properties.


WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CORE POWERS OF A LAND BANK?

  • Obtain property at low or no cost through tax foreclosure

  • Hold land tax free

  • Clear title and or extinguish back taxes

  • Lease properties for temporary uses

  • Negotiate sales based on not only the highest bidder but also the outcome that mostly aligns with community needs, such as workforce housing, grocery store or green space

Using their special powers land banks can streamline blight removal and create a nimble, accountable, and community-driven approach to returning nimble, accountable and community driven approach to returning problem properties to productive use.


* Land banks do not have the power of eminent domain.


Several counties including Greene County already have joined this initiative.




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