By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — What can the Colfax Village Board do when junk is piling up and buildings are falling down?
The Colfax Village Board discussed two properties at the September 22 meeting that are of concern to neighbors and to village board members: the Eugene Ziebell property at 403 High Street and the David Felland property on Pine Street.
Three of Ziebell’s neighbors also attended the village board’s September 8 meeting to express concern.
At issue with the Ziebell property are junk vehicles, piles of lumber and brush, trash, tall grass and weeds.
At issue with the Felland property is a roof on the house and the garage that Colfax building inspector Fred Weber says are in danger of collapsing.
Colfax Police Chief William Anderson reported on the Ziebell property at the September 22 meeting.
Ziebell has been in the hospital for the past three to four weeks, Police Chief Anderson said.
Ziebell’s son has cut down the tall grass and is working on the weeds, he said.
“The piles are more prominent now that the weeds are cut,” said next-door neighbor Sally Johnson, noting that the piles of junk have been there for 15 years.
Police Chief Anderson said he had checked on the registration and that all of the junk vehicles in Ziebell’s yard are currently registered.
The village’s ordinance, however, states that the vehicles must be operational, and the vehicles in Ziebell’s yard are not operational, he said.
Police Chief Anderson said he is trying to convince Ziebell to sell the vehicles for scrap.
Don Knutson, director of the Colfax Rescue Squad and the village’s health officer, also submitted a report to the village board in his capacity as health officer.
According to the complaint portion of Knutson’s report, “The village has received complaints from neighbors of unsightly piles that could be home to possible rodents, making their neighborhood unsafe and lowering property values.”
Knutson inspected the Ziebell property on September 4.
According to Knutson’s report, on his walk-around of the property, he observed “numerous vehicles in inoperable condition … full of bagged material (that appears) to be trash or waste. Many tarped piles of material (are) scattered around the yard. One tarped pile had the tarp shredded either by rodents or rotted with what appeared to be a pile of waste or rubbish underneath the tarp. Areas of tall un-mowed grass in the back and to the side of the house were observed. No rodents were seen on my short inspection but that does not mean they were not present, just not seen. Piles of wood (were) scattered around. Even though the house was not part of the inspection, it was observed to have an upstairs window out as well as a front porch filled with what appeared to be paper/cardboard or rubbish.
Knutson concluded in his report, “Even though rodents were not seen on the property, the property had the prime habitat for rodents… it is my conclusion that if these piles do not have rodents living in them currently, it will only be a matter of time before they will. In the interest of the health of the Village of Colfax residents, it is my recommendation that the vehicles and piles outside be removed, grass be mowed and trimmed to lesson habitat for rodents. As far as the house, I have no real authority to control how people live, but two cautionary statements about the piles visible in the front porch communicates to me that the habitat for rodents continues inside the house as well as a fire hazard to the resident(s) and should be reviewed with the property owner.”
Police Chief Anderson said he could enforce the junk vehicle ordinance and could call a wrecker to haul the vehicles away.
“It’s not healthy around the house. It’s getting to the neighbors,” said Beverly Schauer, village trustee.
Scott Gunnufson, village president, noted that the village must be “realistic” about how long it could take Ziebell to clean up the property but also wondered “how do you justify 15 years?”
Police Chief Anderson said the village could allow some leeway if Ziebell was making progress.
Gunnufson suggested setting a deadline for the cleanup.
If a company has to be hired to remove the debris from the yard, then the cost could be assessed to Ziebell’s property taxes, he said.
“We have to be proactive. It looks terrible,” said Mark Halpin, village trustee.
The Colfax Village Board unanimously approved a motion to move forward with the abatement procedure for the Ziebell property.
The Colfax Village Board discussed their concerns about the Felland house on Pine Street several months ago and concluded, based on advice from the village’s attorney, that there is nothing the village can do to compel the property owner to fix the roof, even if the roof is in danger of collapsing.
Knutson also received a complaint about the garage on the Felland property and did an inspection on September 4 as the village’s health officer.
In his report, Knutson concludes: “I did not see any rodents on his property. I did witness squirrels on the roof, which leads me to believe they are gaining access to the building. The abandoned vehicles with tall grass and trash stacked on the property create habitat for rodents and should be removed. The used tires and barrels collect water and create habitat for mosquitoes that carry diseases. These tires should be removed and the barrels either covered or turned upside down. As for the deteriorated garage, I am not a building inspector or engineer. That being said, my concern is if the roof collapses, the walls would blow out (and could land) on the property owner or someone walking down the alley. Therefore, for the sake of safety, the building needs repairs soon or should be (demolished).”
According to a report from Weber, the building inspector, dated August 26, “when I did an inspection of Mr. Felland’s garage in June 2014, I found the roof boards, rafters, door and windows rotten (and beyond) repair. Two rows of pallets (are) what is holding the roof up. After the roof, doors and windows are removed, one may find the cement block walls reusable.”
When village board members first discussed the Felland house, they were concerned about Felland’s safety but were hesitant to try to contact any of Felland’s relatives because of privacy issues.
The village’s attorney communicated to Jackie Ponto, administrator-clerk-treasurer, that there were no issues with privacy and that the village could contact relatives.
The Colfax Village Board approved a motion directing Ponto to contact Felland’s relatives.
“We have no recourse if his relatives do not respond,” Ponto said.