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Council OKs fixing or razing church

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council has approved an order requiring the owners of the Mahanaim Assamblea de Dios Church to either make city-required safety and structural repairs to the deteriorating church building within 30 days or have the building at Seventh Street and Litchfield Avenue Southwest razed and removed if the owners choose not to make the repairs.

The order, allowed under state law, was prepared by City Attorney Rich Ronning and approved by the council Monday night.

The order states that unless Mahanaim Assamblea de Dios takes corrective action or the owners serve an answer on the city and file an answer in district court within 20 days, the city will ask the court for summary enforcement of the order.

The order states that all demolition and removal costs expended by the city will be assessed against the property. Further, city officials are authorized to serve the necessary papers on the owners to comply with the order.

The order was approved 7-1 with council members Bruce DeBlieck, Jim Dokken, Rick Fagerlie, Ron Christianson, Denis Anderson and Steve Ahmann in favor and Doug Reese against.

City Administrator Michael Schmit said city staff recommended the building be demolished.

But he said the legal process to have the building razed could be halted if the city reaches an agreement with the property owners to give the building to the city as a gift.

The informal gift offer from a church representative was reported last week to the council's Community Development Committee. The representative said church members did not have funds to make the repairs. The committee forwarded the gift offer to the council for discussion.

The council on Nov. 2 voted to declare the 88-year-old building unsafe and directed Ronning to begin legal proceedings to have the building demolished.

Bruce Peterson, director of planning and development services, told the council that city staff would have to wait until a formal gift proposal in writing is made to the city. He said the legal process would proceed on the assumption there would not be a gift to the city.

He suggested moving things along on a parallel track and assume the building will be removed. If something is worked out with the owner regarding the gifting, then the council "can put the brakes'' on demolition.

Responding to council questions, Ronning said there was no down side to accepting the property as a gift if it's a forgone conclusion that the city will see that the property is demolished and the ground leveled.

Also, he said there's a potential for the city to make use of the property once it's leveled such as parking for city government meetings or possible facilities for the Municipal Utilities.

"There are many possibilities if the city receives the gift,'' he said. "If they just proceed under state law, it will probably be owned by the state until someone attempts to negotiate a purchase from the state and the city may or may not be paid for the special assessment.''

Mahanaim bought the building from a local law firm in 2001 for $375,000. The law firm had operated the building as an office from 1980 to 1999. The building, constructed between March 1920 and May 1921, had been home to First Covenant Church. In October 1979, First Covenant moved to its present sanctuary on Willmar Avenue Southwest.

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