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City serves notice on condemned buildings

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THE city has begun its biggest effort in more than a decade to condemn and demolish blighted buildings.

Mayor Kristen Brown said the city’s push for neighborhood cleanup is about removing blighting influences to provide public safety and safe housing.

It’s also part of implementing the city’s strategic plan. One of the city’s goals is to “ensure safe and affordable housing and attractive and proud neighborhoods for all.”

Prior to the removal of the former Best Buy Carpet store on Pennsylvania Street last year, the city hadn’t ordered a demolition in at least a decade. Brown said she expects more residential and commercial buildings to be added to the condemnation list.

Columbus has a lot of abandoned properties, and they create problems for the community, Brown said. She called the vacant homes and businesses unsightly and unsafe and said they are “magnets for criminal behavior and undesirable behavior.”

The nine buildings on the city’s demolition list are considered unsafe under Indiana state law. The Indiana Unsafe Building Act gives the city authority to remove any building that fits into one or more of six categories:

An impaired structural condition that makes it unsafe to a person or property

Fire hazard

Public health hazard

Public nuisance

Dangerous to a person or property because of a violation of a statute or ordinance concerning building condition or maintenance

Vacant and not maintained in a manner that would allow human habitation, occupancy or use under the requirements of a statute or ordinance

Bill Klakamp, the zoning compliance officer for Bartholomew County, acts as the city’s agent in enforcing code and condemning buildings.

He inspects buildings that local officials receive complaints about. If he finds that a building meets one of the six definitions laid out in state law, the city initiates a conversation with the property owner.

Klakamp said he works with owners to exhaust all possible options and find a low-cost way to fix the problem or remove the buildings.

But he said if owners are not responsive or if they cannot come to a solution, he will present the property before the Board of Public Works and Safety. The board then has the option to approve the demolition of the property and apply the cost, including fees and penalties, as a tax lien on the property.

City Attorney Jeff Logston said that by placing a lien the city can recover the cost of demolition when the owner elects to sell or the property goes to a sheriff’s sale.

Alternative funding

Brown said the city is looking at alternative ways of funding the demolitions.

As part of that effort, the city is applying to receive funds from the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority through the Blight Elimination Program.

The application is due by July 21, at which point the agency will review the city’s request and determine whether to grant funds. Those awards will be announced Aug. 28.

But Carl Malysz, the city’s community development director, said because that would provide only a one-time opportunity to fund some demolition costs, the city is developing other methods, including setting up a fund specifically for the demolition of unsafe buildings.

The city’s main focus now, though, is working with property owners to either rehabilitate or remove the nine buildings up for demolition.

Klakamp said the county inspects more buildings every day, but officials won’t add to the list until they resolve the initial nine cases.

“We’ve reviewed our oldest and most chronic problems,” he said. “And this is where we’ve started — with the first step.”

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