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Public nuisance property deemed liability issue

A building that had been damaged by a 2008 fire was deemed a public nuisance in Somerset.

At the village board meeting on April 20, Police Chief Doug Briggs showed a slide presentation of the building and grounds at 122 Spring St.

"The property is abandoned but we've had reports that its been entered by children," Briggs said.

The property included a multi-family, two-story dwelling, as well as a converted garage in the back that was also used as an apartment. In 2008, a fire rendered the property inhospitable and owner Jeremy Boles boarded up some of the ground-level windows.

However, as evidenced by the April 19 photos Briggs showed, there were a few windows that were not boarded up, and an outside staircase that led to the second-floor residence.

Although photos showed that Boles had tried to secure the upper door shut with screws, Briggs was concerned that kids were getting in, and then would become trapped with the door sealed.

"He's made an effort to make the building inaccessible, but no building is inaccessible," Briggs said.

Pam Donohoe, village clerk, said the Village of Somerset had the building inspector send Boles a letter to raze the building back in January 2010. Briggs said that according to the Chapter 11 Title 6 village ordinance, Boles could be fined each day that the building continued to stand.

In addition to the board's concern about the welfare of people who trespass on the property, discarded furniture, car batteries and other trash has started to accumulate at the site.

"If the building looks like it's abandoned, people will use it as a personal dump," Briggs said.

Boles attended the meeting to answer the board's questions and to provide background.

He said that he is in litigation against his insurance company regarding the fire claim. As such, he said his lack of communication with the village was due to the advisement of his attorneys.

Although he initially thought about rebuilding the property, the amount of money needed to bring it up to code was prohibitive. That was another reason he was still working with his insurance company.

"They said that since the raze order from the village was for it being a 'public nuisance' and not for damage to the building, they would not come up with the costs," Boles said.

To raze the building, he had gotten estimates ranging from $27,000-$40,000, which he said is also cost-prohibitive.

"So it's a catch-22."

The board discussed options for a while and decided to have Boles secure the building to the satisfaction of Briggs for the time being.

Boles said he would get thicker plywood to board up the remaining openings and tear down the outside stairwell by the end of the week.

As for his future plans for the property, he said he believes that since it is already zoned commercial, it would be better to have some sort of storefront rather than apartments.

As of Monday, April 26, the outside debris has been cleared out, the outdoor stairway removed and the windows all boarded up.

In other news:

• Bob Crotty, public works director, said that the tennis courts should be paved in the second week of May, with the striping and fencing all completed by mid-June.

• The board awarded the Larry Forrest Memorial Park irrigation project to Water Works for its winning bid of $16,800. They hope to install the system between May 10-14.

• The board approved Smoking Ban ordinance A-588 which will mirror the statewide smoking ban in public places to take effect July 5.