The Howell City Council is bringing the hammer down when it comes to addressing unsafe structures.

At issue are two houses located at 715 and 504 North Court Street with different owners that have fallen into disrepair and have been the subject of enforcement action for years. In both cases, council was somewhat sympathetic but also firm. Many members expressed frustration because they give owners leeway and then little if anything gets done or permits are granted but never picked up.

A memo noted that staff has given the owner at 715 North Court more time than any other property in the city to bring the home into compliance with ordinances. The property was purchased in 2013 and some work was done over the years but eventually stopped and unsafe building proceedings were re-started in June of 2018 after the owner stopped contacting the city in regard to progress. Although it’s currently an uninhabitable structure, staff did receive a structural report that showed the house is salvageable. Council was poised to move to court action but staff informed members at the meeting that the property owner last Friday provided plans for renovations and a permit was ready to be issued depending on Council action. The owner explained his situation and how he acquired the property, which is not his primary residence, saying he has lost thousands and the home fell into disrepair but is still paying all of the taxes and mortgage. He noted that he’s had a tough time finding a contractor willing to do the whole project but feels he finally has found the right person for the job and has a private investor backing funding.

Mayor Nick Proctor noted nothing has happened in 20 years, except for a porch being removed - thus he did not have a lot of confidence and was very reluctant to buy in with granting any extension. Proctor was comfortable passing the motion with some stipulations in that after 90 days, the City attorney has the green light to start condemnation proceedings for an unsafe building. Proctor told the owner that reassurance puts some trust in him to get his act together but also a little pressure to ensure action. He further commented there are hopes and dreams but it’s been decades and questioned when enough is enough. Council ultimately did grant the owner 90 days to fix structural issues in the basement and perform exterior work. He must also present plans for the interior renovation work and then pull permits for that by the end of the 90 days. Staff will monitor progress and if those items aren’t addressed, then Council authorized the City attorney to proceed with court action for demolition. Councilman Michael Mulvahill voted against granting the property owner the additional time.

Meanwhile, the City has been in contact with the owners of the property at 504 North Court Street for the past two years and staff provided a list of what needed to be done to alleviate the unsafe conditions. Staff said a reasonable amount of time was given in 2018 to formulate a plan and get started on work but nothing was done and a second letter was sent to the owner in late July. The owners attended the meeting and told Council it wasn’t a good year and they had a lot going on and dropped the ball but would like a second chance. They stated they started repairs before the recession but have done very little since and just got behind but do have the financial resources to handle the project and think the home is worth saving. The owner indicated he has been in contact with a structural engineer who is working on plans and feels it can be repaired. Although the home has been vacant, the owner stated they regularly check on the property and have kept the heat and electricity on, and mow the grass and plow snow. The owner said he turned off water service after copper piping was stolen and they haven’t replaced some windows because kids keep throwing rocks and breaking them.

Members Jan Lobur and Jeanette Ambrose felt the additional time in both cases wouldn’t hurt the city. Referring to 504 North Court, Ambrose commented that she walks in the neighborhood all the time and it’s a corner lot in a nice neighborhood and wanted the owners to try to fix it up. She said it would be a shame to lose the home as it was built in 1870 and possibly has historical value, adding it were to be demolished, the in-fill home wouldn’t be of the same character. However, Ambrose stressed it’s not fair to the neighbors to keep it in the current condition and Council needs reassurances they’ll follow through in a timely manner.

Council ultimately gave that owner 60 days to come back with a contractor and hopefully progress or court action will commence. Mayor Nick Proctor and Councilman Michael Mulvahill were both opposed. (JM/JK)