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DL retailers, city fight over cellars

They’ve existed for about 100 years, but with a major street project coming up, the city says the basements that extend under Washington Avenue in downtown Detroit Lakes now need to be filled in — on the property owners’ dime.

The Washington Avenue project scheduled for this summer spurred the action, which was discussed at the Detroit Lakes City Council meeting last week and will continue to be discussed until an agreement is reached — even if property owners aren’t in favor of the result.

On Tuesday, the council approved ordering an abatement of the nuisances resulting from the encroachment of basements into the right of way on Washington Avenue.

Those basements are located under 805, 807, 811 and 813 Washington Avenue, which are home to Price’s Fine Jewelry, Barbara’s Hair-N-Body Care, TLC Companies Inc. and Ginny’s Boutique, respectively.

The city says the building owners should pay for abating the portion of the basements in the right of way, but owners say it’s the city that has the problem with the basements that have never caused a problem before, so the city should have to pay.

City’s findings, resolution

The city is saying that according to the law, these building extensions are unlawful encroachments into the right of way. Therefore the city is defining them as nuisances, saying they are a public safety matter and need to be filled in.

With the impending Washington Avenue project, the city says that those encroachments will interfere with the construction of the project. The project includes digging down and replacing water and sewer lines under the street and then rebuilding it to look similar to the north side of Washington Avenue that was completed a few years ago.

The city says that the basements will obstruct the right of way, causing an obstacle that will require special design for the sidewalks that either avoid the space or have to span the encroachments that aren’t reliable structurally.

Combined with information from Apex Engineering, the city’s resolution states that, “these encroachments are a safety hazard. The structural stability of these encroachments is unknown.”

The resolution says that at Price’s and TLC, it’s possible to see the support beams and that they “display significant deterioration including spalled concrete (concrete that has broken up, flaked, or become pitted) reinforcement delamination from the concrete and exposed and corroded rebar.”

The city is giving the property owners until June 1 to abate the nuisances because of the anticipated July start date of the construction.

The resolution also says that the property owners must sign a commitment by April 8 to have the basements abated. At the April 8 city council meeting, aldermen will decide whether to act on any properties where the commitment hasn’t been signed.

Business owners

In a letter to the council, Brian and Ginny Stephens, owners of Ginny’s Boutique, said, “Your rationale that the encroachment of below grade space under our building now constitutes a ‘nuisance’ after 100 years of being in place, constitutes an argument of convenience on your part.”

Those who spoke at the council meeting Tuesday night agreed.

“It’s never been a nuisance to anyone,” said Roger Price, owner of Price’s Fine Jewelry, adding that the basements have been fine until the city’s project. “This is not right.”

Mayor Matt Brenk asked if Price uses the space, and Price responded that he does, just like everyone uses all the space in their home, he uses the space in his business for storage.

He added that the sidewalks have clearly been redone in the last 98 years and the basements weren’t a nuisance then.

“Either work around it or compensate us for our space,” he told the council.

Dallas Flynn, who owns the 807 Washington Avenue property, suggested giving the piece of property that is encroaching on the street to the city, but the city said they don’t want the property, they just want the nuisance abated.

In Stephens’ letter, he said, “As someone who has done a considerable amount of construction, this suggestion that each of the owners individually takes action to correct this situation is ridiculous.”

Some of the council members were sympathetic to the situation, questioning what could be done.

Alderman Bruce Imholte asked if there was some sort of compromise, but Alderman Jamie Marks Erickson said it’s the property owners’ responsibility since they are encroaching, and that the city needs to be careful how it treats the situation as to not set any precedence.

“The landowner didn’t create the problem, so why should they have to remedy it?” asked Alderman Al Brevik.

The city agreed to hold a meeting with the property owners to discuss the matter further, but went ahead with the abatement vote Tuesday.

Mayor Matt Brenk pushed to move forward with the vote on the basis that the process needs to move along in order for the project to stay on the proposed timeline.

Price said that if the property owners are forced to fill in the basements at their cost, they will fight back, and questioned what that will do to the city’s timeline.

After about half an hour of discussion and comment, the council approved the resolution to abate the nuisances. The city will meet with property owners before the April meeting.

Pippi Mayfield, Detroit Lakes Newspapers

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