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Willmar, Minn., council issues order for exterior repairs to historic house

The Willmar City Council has directed staff to file the formal order for exterior repairs to this house at 515 Seventh St. N.W. in Willmar. Failure to comply with the order would allow the city to demolish the property, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council is ordering the owner of an historic property to make exterior repairs to the building or the house may be demolished.

Council members voted 7-1 Monday night to direct staff to file the formal order for exterior repairs to the house once owned by early Willmar businessman John M. Spicer, 515 Seventh St. N.W., and to allow the current owner 45 days to complete the work.

The repair order was recommended by the council's Community Development Committee.

The property is in foreclosure and the deed is currently held by the Federal National Mortgage Association, also known as Fannie Mae, which provides federal money to banks to finance home mortgages.

Bruce Peterson, director of city planning and development services, said research has determined the property is on the National Register of Historic Places. But he said there is no evidence that a preservation easement has ever been recorded for the property.

Peterson talked to City Attorney Robert Scott and they recommended the council issue a formal repair order as a preliminary step to asking the court to declare the property a hazardous building.

Peterson said failure to comply with the order would allow the city to demolish the property.

The house is located in Ward 1, represented by Denis Anderson and Bruce DeBlieck.

Both agreed the house is in terrible shape and needs repairs. Peterson said the interior is worse than the exterior.

"If they want to fix it up, that's their business,'' Anderson said.

DeBlieck asked who would pay demolition costs.

Scott said the city would incur the expense if the city cannot compel the owner to do it. In that event, he said, the city could assess the costs back to the property.

DeBlieck asked if there are any extenuating circumstances since the house is listed on the National Register.

Scott said the question is somewhat unclear due to some ambiguous statutory language.

"There is no preservation easement recorded against this property,'' he told the council. "On the other hand, there is some statutory language that could require the city to involve the State Historic Preservation Office. So that's the wild card in this situation. It remains to be seen how that will play out.''

Rick Fagerlie, an appraiser, said he knows how Fannie Mae works and said the agency is not going to "stick any money into it.''

"We can go with the order. But Fannie Mae isn't going to do anything. They won't do anything. I would ride it out until the 12-month redemption period is done. They will liquidate it as soon as they can,'' he said.

Peterson did not think anybody will buy the property unless they like the look of the lot and want to build a different structure there.

"I think it's a good idea to be proactive, at least fire the warning shot to the former property owner and we'll also have to notify Fannie Mae as the current owner through the foreclosure process and let them know what the city's intent is,'' Peterson said.

"At least we have that part of the process done if we need to take it to the next level. It costs virtually nothing to issue the order,'' he said.

Voting to issue the order were Anderson, DeBlieck, Steve Ahmann, Ron Christianson, Doug Reese, Jim Dokken and Tim Johnson. Fagerlie voted against.

According to information provided by the Kandiyohi County Historical Society, Spicer built the house north of the railroad tracks on Nelson Avenue in about 1873 -- three years after Willmar's founding. The street name was later changed to Seventh Street.

Spicer was a businessman and railroad official who promoted land development in Kandiyohi County. Spicer sold the house in 1912.

In October 1986, the State Historic Preservation Office notified the Kandiyohi County Historical Society that the house was among two county sites placed on the National Register, a listing of districts, sites and buildings considered to be worthy of preservation.

Records indicate the house, located on a "lovely 6-acre tract,'' features Victorian architecture with clapboard siding, gables and bay windows "with a cupola rising like a spire from the cut-over railroad land.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150