Mitchell City Council hears testimony on demo of historic house
The Mitchell City Council will decide next week whether there are any feasible alternatives to demolishing one of the city's oldest houses.
After listening to testimony from people on both sides of the issue during a hearing Monday night in Council Chambers at City Hall, the council agreed to decide at its next meeting, June 16, whether there are feasible alternatives to demolishing the house at 205 N. Duff St.
The house was built in about 1883, but was damaged by fire in 2002 and was later declared a public nuisance by the city. But because the house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, state law requires the city take specific steps before the house can be demolished.
The house is owned by Clarence and Lauretta Larsen, who appeared at Monday night's hearing with their attorney, Jim Taylor, of Mitchell.
"I'm not a person neglecting my property," said Lauretta Larsen, addressing the council. "I'm a person who is working hard to restore this property, properly."
In a lawsuit filed Feb. 27, 2013, the city asked the court for permission to demolish the house, which the city had already at that time declared a public nuisance.
In a response filed March 6, 2013, the Larsens said they were still working to restore the house to the condition it was in before the fire. The house has historical and architectural value "far in excess" of its financial value, the response says, and that value "far exceeds an alleged unsightliness."
Lauretta Larsen reiterated that argument to the council at Monday's hearing.
"I don't think it should be taken lightly that we destroy one of these historic buildings," she said.
Larsen, who is doing much of the renovation herself, told the council she is working with a rare building material known as chalkstone, which was used in the construction of the house. She said that's partly to blame for the delay in progress on the restoration, which has been ongoing since 2002.
"It is a slow process because you cannot sandblast the material, you cannot powerwash it," she said.
Larry Jirsa, a local architect, took part in an inspection of the house last August and told the council Monday he saw little to indicate the house was actively being restored. He described the interior of the house as being filled with furniture and boxes of household items.
"This house, to me, was nowhere near going down the path of a restoration process," he said.
Jirsa said he knows the Larsens are emotionally committed to the house, but estimates the cost of restoring the house at $350,000 to $400,000.
"I think it's the financial situation that's holding them back," he said.
Dan Beukelman, a neighbor who lives at 209 N. Duff St., described an incident about two years ago in which a piece of metal siding blew off of the Larsens' house in a windstorm and broke a window on his home.
Beukelman provided the council with photos of the exterior of the Larsens' house and said he has noticed few, if any, improvements made in recent years.