A revised demolition policy is in place to assist International Falls residents with the demolition, removal and disposal of dilapidated, unwanted blighted and hazardous structures.
Monday’s adoption of the policy by the Falls City Council lifts a moratorium placed earlier on use of the city’s demo policy while city staff and the council revised the policy.
The six-page policy is accompanied by 16 pages of a development agreement between the city and the owner of the structure proposed to be demolished, an application to qualify building for demolition form, and a building demolition ready form.
The development agreement is likely to be mostly used by commercial properties.
The policy notes that city officials intend to provide a service for property owners that is not otherwise available from local, qualified demolition contractors or is not within their means to pay for such services.
The city’s policy was revised when applicants said the process was confusing, and councilors wondered if it was fair to all.
For residential property, considered Type A in the policy, not much changed, but demo requests for commercial property will be considered by the city council on a case-by-case basis, with costs and other charges to be assessed to the property owner, should the council agree to proceed.
Mayor Bob Anderson told The Journal the city wants larger commercial buildings, under Type D in the policy, to be handled by contractors.
He pointed to the demolition this spring of the Tee Pee Motel, damaged by fire, which he said took city crews six or seven days, taking that time away from city projects.
The development agreement in the policy’s forms may assist the city to work with a commercial property owner to take down an eligible building in order to put up new, but he said that depends on a number of factors, including size.
“The agreement could become part of the overall discussions with commercial,” he said.
The new policy was developed primarily because of the Tee Pee and the need to clean up a number of commercial structures, the mayor said.
“We hadn’t been faced with that for some time, and staff looked at $50 fee we were charging per truck load, and said that was not covering costs,” he said. “The policy was implemented in 1993, so needed an overall updating.”
Under the new policy, city residents may apply for demolition of residential single-family houses, footings, foundation, and debris removal and processing at no cost to the property owners.
The policy notes that special consideration will be given to determine demolition fees in instances where buildings are burned and damaged by fire, with ash on site.
Administrator Ken Anderson told the council Monday that ash, and fire-burned debris, may not go into the city’s demo landfill, but instead go to a landfill certified for that type of debris.
Mayor Anderson told The Journal that clause was included because of a fire-damaged residence that sat idle for about 18 months before it was demolished.
“I wondered what role the city would play,” he said. “Can we find out if they had insurance (that covers clean-up costs),” he said, recalling his own house fire in 2015.
“I was fortunate to have some of my clean up covered by insurance, not all but most,” he said.
City attorney Steve Shermoen told the council that insurance companies hold back a portion of payments for demolition. He said any expenses incurred by a government entity for the clean up of a burned building would be paid to the government by the property owner’s insurance provider, rather than the property owners.
Meanwhile, the council agreed to review at a special meeting at 5 p.m. July 22 staff revisions to the application and ready forms to more closely follow the activities required in the policy.
For example, noted city Administrator Anderson, a clause in the application requires property owners to cut utilities before the city considers the structure for the eligibility under the policy. The revision would allow the city to qualify a structure for the policy and then require the property owner to cut utilities and remove items, among other requirements.
“We want to simplify the process to apply and for us to review (the structures proposed for the program),” Anderson explained.
With the moratorium lifted on applications for the demo policy, Mayor Anderson said people who would like a building removed should apply with city Building Official Kelly Meyers or Fire Chief Adam Mannausau.
“We’re prepared to start considering (the applications),” Anderson said.
Ted Brokaw, city street and water commissioner, told the council that should the moratorium be lifted, he would use the week for demolishing two structures under court order, as well as one structure submitted before the moratorium, and three submitted after the moratorium.
He said he didn’t want to gear up crews and equipment for just one garage, instead being more efficient to demolish four structures in the same period.
The special meeting will also hear the second reading dealing with implementation of a 1 percent sales tax in the city, for which a new resolution is needed to meet state requirements.
An earlier ordinance was repealed and a revised ordinance, based on a template from the state, was approved.
The action is needed quickly to allow state officials to implement the process that allows city businesses to begin collecting the additional tax.