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City targets several properties for demolition

With grant money dwindling, city budgets for work

Published: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

STERLING – The city has targeted six properties for demolition in the 2014-15 fiscal year, including a structure that was damaged by a convicted arsonist.

The city has possession of the properties, which were paid for through the general fund. The properties are among those on a list compiled by the city many years ago.

"We did a study about 5 years ago and determined that 250 properties could be demolished right now," Mayor Skip Lee said.

Lee said the structures are prioritized according to several criteria, with public safety being most important. Potential for improving a neighborhood and proximity to areas with good prospects for development are also considered.

The city became involved in the Neighborhood Stabilization Program in 2010, and received nearly $2.8 million from a federal grant. The money is used to buy and rehab foreclosed or abandoned properties, which are then sold to low- and moderate-income families.

The money is drying up in that federal program, so the city is exploring other grant opportunities, but in the meantime has budgeted for the acquisition of this group of abandoned properties.

One of the properties, 906 Dillon Ave., was severely damaged by fire in May 2013, eventually resulting in an arrest. Juan L. Lugo, of Sterling, who had been staying with his brother at the address, was convicted of arson and sentenced to 3 years in the Department of Corrections.

According to City Manager Scott Shumard, the house was not insured, so the rest of the structure could not be demolished by the owner. The city is seeking a demolition order from the courts.

A court demolition order is also sought for 807 Avenue E, where a house has been vacant for several years.

"The property has been in a trust, so there has been zero interaction or upkeep of the property," Shumard said.

The other four structures are sought through abandonment proceedings, which can take many years.

"It depends how easily you can serve people," Shumard said. "Some people are much deeper underground than others."

There is also what Lee calls "foreclosure purgatory," where no one claims to own a property.

"The owner says he gave it back to the bank, and the bank says it really doesn't belong to them, as it's working its way through the system," Lee said.

One of the properties is a troublesome structure at 1111 Ave. L that has been vacant for 9 years. Also going through abandonment proceedings are structures at 908 Ave. K and 1110 Seventh Ave. Both have been vacant about 6 years, but the city believes the Seventh Avenue house is salvageable.

"There are some problems there, but the house is in decent shape, and we hope to have it remodeled," Shumard said.

Several of the properties have liens for mowing services, which become yet another headache for the city. If the grass at abandoned properties violate city ordinance, the city oftentimes must step in and do the mowing.

"We mow and send the owner a bill," Lee said. "If they don't pay the bill, the lien guarantees we get our money if they sell the place."

Given the nature of the abandonment process, it's difficult to put demolitions on a schedule, but the city has included the six properties on its goals list for this fiscal year.

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