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Council continues on to take down neglected building

Third Avenue west of North Main Street has been closed ever since the collapse of the side of the building on the north side of Third Avenue. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The Mitchell City Council approved the next step in tearing down the dilapidated building near Third Avenue and Main Street, but not without some arguments over how the building has been handled over the last 18 months.

The council voted unanimously Monday to approve a resolution acknowledging the South Dakota State Historic Preservation Office's findings regarding the building at 301 and 303 North Main Street, which has had a gaping hole in the side of it for months. The city has declared it a nuisance and has taken action to have the building torn down, including taking the building's owner, David Finnell, to civil court regarding the nuisance. As a result, Third Avenue between Main and Rowley streets has been closed the entire time.

On Nov. 2, the state's historic preservation office issued comments to the council to say the proposed demolition of the building would impact a historic property but said the demolition appeared to be the only feasible and prudent alternative based on all of the available findings. The state also wrote that the proposed demolition would minimize the harm to area properties.

Finnell's attorney, R. Shawn Tornow, of Sioux Falls, said Monday that the building is now owned by Finnell Properties LLC but the deed transfer for the ownership has not yet been finalized.

At issue Monday for Finnell and Tornow was the city's refusal to extend the building permit time to allow Finnell to continue working on repairs of the building. The council members were unswayed.

"This has been on the top of our mind for months," Council member Susan Tjarks said. "I bet there's not a single one of us in this room that has not been approached regularly asking, 'What in the world is going on Third?' So for this to come at this last minute, death-bed plea, it's just too-little, too-late. We can't put this off any longer.

"At this point at time, it's gone too far," she added. "My heart goes out to you, Mr. Finnell, but this is something that needed to come before us long December 3, 2018."

Tornow initially asked for a building permit to be extended into June 2019, and later asked about coming back to the council with a structural plan with 45 days but the council did not take action about extending a permit or allowing work again.

Finnell had filed for a building permit on Nov. 2, 2017, to repair the damaged structure, but that was allowed to expire on March 30 and the city did not issue another permit or an extension, because Finnell had not made adequate progress on the building. The Mitchell City Council deemed the building a nuisance in April.

"He was at that meeting and chose not to say a word," City Attorney Justin Johnson said of Finnell and the April council meeting to approve the nuisance.

There has been a large hole in the southwest corner of the 110-year-old building and the adjacent street has been closed since at least August 2017. Finnell took ownership of the property around Oct. 1, 2017, Tornow said on Monday.

The city of Mitchell filed a civil lawsuit regarding the building in June and that matter remained mostly separate on Monday.

Tornow argued that the city did not take seriously a report from Mitchell architect Larry Jirsa, which would have been more cost effective for Finnell. But city officials said Monday that only a structural engineering evaluation would be suitable. A building assessment done for the city of Mitchell regarding demolition has been estimated between $560,000 and $745,000.

"We would agree that this will create harm to the Mitchell historic district and we think there's a realistic alternative but that hasn't been proposed here," Tornow said. "Nuisances aren't fun for anyone. The goal is not to punish the landowner."

John Hegg, the city's building inspector, said Finnell had not made enough progress to warrant an extension of the permit, and that officials from OSHA stopped the progress of the work because it was not safe in the building. He said local contractors would not work on the project without an engineer's report. The report from Jirsa, he said, was architectural, not structural, in nature.

"The construction deadline wasn't met," Hegg said. "It wasn't 20 percent completed by the end of the building permit. ... We let it expire."

"There were a lot of nice days when he had that permit where there wasn't a single person in there (working)," council member Kevin McCardle added.

Mayor Bob Everson pointed out that the issue has been on the agenda numerous times for public input regarding the issue, and Finnell has not shown the wherewithal to complete the project.

Skip Moody, who operates Moody's Western Wear next to the damaged three-story building said he's running into insurance problems because of the ongoing issues next door. He said the mortar for the bricks is falling apart.

"All you guys need to go and walk around that building," Moody said to the council. "Who is going to pay if the building falls through the roof and kills someone in my store? You've got to tear down part of it or all of it."

The building was previously owned by Tingle Rental Properties LLC prior to Finnell owning the building, and has been home to Merchandise Outlet Store and the Hardcore Inc. tattoo shop.

Finnell spoke for himself on a couple of occasions. He said that he could not put down concrete in the winter, and alluded to an arrangement with the city about his financial situation to pay for his project. Johnson said Finnell's description of the events in that April 2 one-on-one meeting was not accurate.

"We did talk about the city fronting those costs and assessing those back to the property," Johnson said. "We also talked about working with Mitchell Main Street and Beyond. At no point was he ever told that the city was going to give him the money."

Consent agenda

Approved the following items at once during the consent agenda portion of the meeting:

• Raffle permits: VFW, with the drawing to be held immediately after the sale of 100 tickets, which will go on sale Dec. 4; Mitchell Quarterback Club, with the drawing to be held Dec. 28.

• Set date of Dec. 17 for hearing application on a special event liquor license for a Corn Palace Shrine Club event for the Mitchell Area Chamber Banquet at the Masonic Hall on Jan. 11.

• Automatic supplement request form and supplemental budget appropriation request form.

• Approve pay estimates from various projects.

• Approve bills, payroll, salary adjustments and new employee hires and authorize payment of recurring and other expenses in advance as approved by the finance officer.

Other business

• Pledge of Allegiance, invocation from Mitchell Wesleyan Church, roll call.

• Heard citizens' input.

• Meeting as the Board of Adjustment, set Dec. 17 as the date for the following hearing: Boyd Reimnitz, owner of 620 W. 5th Ave., legally described as the west 50 feet of Lots 7, 8 and 9, Block 17, Rowley's 2nd Addition, is requesting a side yard on a corner variance of 12 feet vs. 20 feet for placement of a detached garage. The property is zoned R2 Single Family Residential District.

• Approved applications for renewal of liquor licenses for Ramada Hotel and Cattleman's Club Steakhouse.

• Approved awarding bid for sale of used dozer city project No. R2018-37. The bid of Fran Rosenau in the amount of $17,558 was the high bidder.

• Approved the following resolutions: No. R2018-56, for the 2019 compensation plan for the city of Mitchell; R2018-57, regarding contingency transfers; R2018-62, a resolution setting fees and charges regarding public safety charges for ambulance and facility uses, which was tabled from the Nov. 19 City Council meeting; Resolution No. R2018-63, a resolution approving an easement quiet claim deed.

• Approved, on first reading, Ordinance No. O2018-16, which updates the boundaries on snow removal in District A.

• Approved, on first reading, Ordinance No. O2018-17 regarding supplemental appropriations.

• Met for about 30 minutes in executive session but took no action.