City attorney to get involved
By Bert LehmanThe Clintonville City Council has directed City Attorney Keith Steckbauer to contact the owners of the two buildings on Main Street that were damaged by fire.
His goal is to find out what the owners intend to do with the buildings.
The Clintonville Finance Committee discussed the matter at its Jan. 9 meeting.
“We feel we really need to be looking at this,” Doornink said at the committee meeting. “It’s a little bit of a catch-22. I want to be proactive on this and get some things going but I also do not want the taxpayers to foot the bill by paying for this.”
He added that he is concerned that if the city doesn’t act, in six months, the buildings will look the same as they do now.
Adding to the urgency is the fact the Bluebird Cafe can’t reopen until the building at 46 S. Main St. is repaired or removed. An unstable wall on the building at 46 S. Main St. that could fall on the building that houses the Bluebird Cafe is keeping the cafe closed.
At the December Clintonville City Council meeting, Kell had told the council that the owner of the China King Restaurant, which was located in the building, had inquired about the possibility of taking ownership of the building.
At the Finance Committee meeting, committee member Lance Bagstad said he had heard that China King might be moving to the former Amicos Midwest Pizzeria location. As of the Monday, Jan. 16, there were signs in the windows of the former Amicos building that read, “China King coming soon.”
Clintonville Clerk-Treasurer Peggy Johnson informed the committee that the Bluebird Cafe’s insurance company has filed an open records request for the fire report for the fire at 46 S. Main St.
Steckbauer told the committee that he doesn’t think the owners of the two buildings are in the area anymore.
To move forward with a plan to see something done with the buildings, Steckbauer said the city can pursue the buildings as being a public nuisance, which would mean they would have to be removed regardless of the value of the building.
The other option for the city would be to issue a raze or repair order. This process would be started by serving the owners the order. If the owners can’t be found, the city can act on the order 30 days after it is published in the official newspaper of the city.
Clintonville City Administrator Chuck Kell reminded the committee that once a raze order is submitted and the 30 days pass, the responsibility falls on the city. This would include incurring the cost to remove the building, and probably other costs associated with the property in the future.
“If we issue this, we’re probably going to end up with it,” Kell said.
Bagstad asked what action was taking place at 49 S. Main St., the building across the street that was damaged by fire.
“There are two structures sitting there,” Bagstad said. “From the naked eye, driving past, it does not appear that there’s been much done with either one.”
Kell said the owner of the building at 49 S. Main St. had indicated that he was going to clean up the property and find tenants for the building, but nothing has happened yet.
The committee approved recommending that the council direct Steckbauer to contact the owner of the building at 49 S. Main Street to find out what his intentions actually are. The committee also recommended that the council direct Steckbauer to contact the city’s building inspector about the status of the building at 46 S. Main Street.
The next night, the council unanimously approved both recommendations.
The committee also discussed the possibility of requiring those who own business building in the city to have insurance on the buildings.
Doornink started the discussion by stating, “I’m worried we’re going to have more [of these situations].”
He added that the city’s fire inspector sometimes has problems finding contact information for different business properties. He recommended requiring any business in the city to have on file with the city, the type of business it is, contact information for the owner and if it has insurance. Having the building inspected would also be required.
“I do not want to make this a moneymaker for the city,” Doornink said. “I do not want to charge hundreds of dollars for it to have a business here. We have to be able to cover our administrative costs.”
Doornink said he was recommending that business property owners have at least liability insurance coverage so adjourning property owners would be protected.
Bagstad said he was concerned that requiring only liability insurance would still allow property owners to walk away from their property if the building sustained too much damage. He recommended having the city attorney research what other communities of a like size require for business property owners.
“We want to be in line with other municipalities our size so we’re not setting an ordinance that’s way out of line with municipalities our size,” Bagstad said. “Nor do we want to undercut the necessary required insurance to make sure those businesses are properly insured.”
Committee member Mike Hankins asked if it was legal for the city to require business property owners to have insurance.
Kell told the committee that he’s done some research on the topic but hasn’t found a municipality that requires business property owners to have insurance on their buildings. He said he has found a multitude of examples where municipalities require business occupancy licensing.
“I’ve looked at a lot of their ordinances. I looked at a lot of their application forms to see if that (insurance requirement) was a check-off. It’s not mentioned,” Kell said.
The city of Clintonville currently does not require any sort of business licensing.
Steckbauer questioned if the city was trying to fix a problem in which most of the business properties in the city are insured.
Bagstad said if there is a possibility of other buildings being uninsured, the city needs to explore requiring insurance for business properties.
“At least if it happens again, we already have an answer as to what our next steps have to be at that point,” Bagstad said. “We can keep reacting time and time again, but how many times do we want to react before we actually act.”
The committee directed Steckbauer to research business occupancy permits and insurance information for businesses. This information is scheduled to be discussed at the February Finance Committee meeting.