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Still standing: Condemned building should be gone within two months

Efforts to demolish a condemned commercial building at 648 W. Fourth St. in New Richmond have been ongoing for nearly five years.

Some city officials are beyond frustrated by the process that has allowed the building to remain. Their frustration bubbled to the surface at Monday's regular City Council meeting.

Police Chief Mark Samelstad, whose department has cited owner Vernon Borst dozens of times over the past decade due to junk stored on the property, said the court has ordered the businessman to stop operating out of the location until a business plan is submitted.

Samelstad said he is unaware that any such plan has been submitted or approved.

Even though the business isn't allowed to operate, Samelstad said, Borst continues to ignore the court's rulings.

"More and more items are starting to appear out there," he told the council. "It's become a junk yard again. Something needs to be done to that property."

Planning and Community Development Director Robert Barbian said the community is awaiting word on a Brownfield grant award that would help offset some of the costs of razing the condemned building. Because of the ongoing budget battle in Madison, Barbian said the grant award announcement has been delayed by several weeks.

If the grant is denied, Alderman Jim Zajkowski said, the city would issue a raze order and have the structure removed after giving Borst 30 days to remove personal property from the building. Borst would then be responsible for paying the cost of the building's demolition.

If the grant is approved, Borst's costs would be decreased significantly.

Alderman Kirk Van Blaircom said he's tired of dealing with the building and its owner. He suggested that a raze order be issued immediately and give Borst 30 days to remove anything he wants to save.

"I see taxpayer dollars being wasted," he said. "There's all the staff time dealing with this issue."

But Barbian said razing the building soon could jeopardize the city's chances of getting the state grant.

Instead, the council voted 5-0 in favor of a plan to raze the building on June 1, with or without the state grant approval.

In other business:

• The council approved a change in park operating hours in the city. The parks will now be open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Previous hours were 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., but council members noted that in the summertime the sun is out much later and the parks could thus be used longer.

• A decision on a possible change in downtown parking regulations was delayed until the council's next meeting.

Van Blaircom is suggesting that city residents who live in downtown apartments be allowed to park along the street overnight. Most of the parking areas near the downtown are posted for no parking from 2 to 6 a.m., to allow for snow removal during the winter months.

As a result, Van Blaircom reported, residents who leave their cars in those areas over night end up being ticketed by police.

"They should be able to park in front of their place," he said.

Alderman Jane Hansen said the parking issue also impacts how many spaces are available for customers who are shopping or eating in restaurants downtown.

"I think we need to support our businesses," she said.

Hansen said apartment dwellers downtown don't have to walk that far from available parking spaces, so she didn't see a need to change the current regulations.

Van Blaircom was directed to draft a parking regulation plan before the next meeting. He said he'd like to remove the overnight restrictions during the non-winter months.

• The council approved a motion to send assessment notices to all property owners in the city this year. In the past, assessment notices were only sent to properties that had a change in their valuations.

• The council approved a $20,000 loan to the New Richmond Softball Association for new scoreboards and other improvements to the ball fields. The association will pay back the loan over the next two years, along with an interest rate of 4 to 5 percent. Hansen cast the lone no vote, stating that, in light of the city's current financial crunch, the association should make improvement on a "pay as you go" basis and not borrow the money.

• Richard Haffner, who is appealing the 2010 property assessment for his home, was directed to build a case for a reduction in his valuation. Because he was deployed in Iraq at the time, Haffner said he was never notified of the higher-than-expected valuation of his home until he got his tax statement. He said similar sized homes in the community are valued at considerably less than his home.

• The council approved rezoning the current middle school property from conservancy to public property.

• The council approved a larger driveway entrance for the new Oh Ship office on South Knowles. The current driveway is 15 feet but it will be expanded to 24 feet to provide a safer entrance for customers and the Federal Express trucks.