A federal grant will help Valentin Romero raze a home he owns at 909 Pa. -- provided he agrees to live in whatever he rebuilds on the site.
As old homes in the city's oldest neighborhoods continue to get older, Lawrence city commissioners are looking for help solving an old problem: Convincing property owners to keep their properties looking as good as new.
Tuesday night, commissioners asked the East Lawrence Improvement Assn. (ELIA) to work with city staffers and propose new guidelines for property maintenance.
The request came after commissioners heard complaints from several people upset about applications for demolition permits at two locations:
- 909 Pa., a home built sometime before 1873 and possibly even before Quantrill's Raid, making it one of the city's oldest. However, it has been occupied for more than 10 years.
- 740 R.I., a 128-year-old home that hasn't been hooked up to electricity since 1991 and was deemed uninhabitable a year ago. Today it has at least two offers to be purchased.
"It's such an insult to our neighborhood, to drag down our property values and not be willing to fix them up," said K.T. Walsh, an ELIA board member, vice president of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance and concerned neighbor who lives at 732 R.I.
She noted that both properties could be rehabilitated, and that several efforts to purchase them had been rebuffed by property owners.
"It's demolition by neglect," said Walsh, who already has talked with staffers about changing the city code. "I'm insulted."
Commissioners acknowledged the concerns of Walsh and others, but indicated that their current laws and regulations didn't allow for proactive dilapidation prevention.
"The city can't force people to sell their property," Commissioner Marty Kennedy said. "We're a little hands-tied on that, but we're doing the best we can."
Tuesday night, commissioners took actions regarding both applications for demolition permits:
- For 909 Pa., commissioners agreed to grant owner Valentin Romero's request for a demolition permit, and his request for a federal Community Development Block Grant to finance the demolition. The only provision: Before he gets the $3,000 to $4,000 grant, Romero must sign an agreement to live in any new structure on site, and, if he doesn't, Romero must repay the grant.
- For 740 R.I., commissioners agreed to have staffers draw up a resolution ordering the repair or demolition of the structure. Commissioners won't vote on the resolution until they hear back from the Historic Resources Commission, which will review the permit June 19.