Neighbors don’t want forlorn house moved in
By RICK MORAIN
For The Jefferson Herald
The Jefferson city council reversed itself May 22 and decided not to accept the gift of the historic Victorian house at 305 W. State St.
The house is now owned by the adjacent Central Christian Church, which purchased it in order to obtain the lot on which it now sits for greenspace. The church offered to give the house to the city if the council approved.
The 3-2 vote to reject the gift nixed a proposal from city building inspector Nick Sorensen to move the house to a vacant lot owned by the city at 407 W. Lincoln Way, about three blocks to the southwest. Sorensen had proposed to have the city pay to move the house, construct a foundation for it, and repair and paint the exterior.
Sorensen estimated the city’s cost for the project to be between $106,000 and $124,000.
He spent considerable time and research to obtain cost estimates and information necessary for the project.
At the city council meeting two weeks earlier, the council had given the go-ahead to have Sorensen proceed to prepare for the proposed house move.
At that time, councilmen Matt Wetrich, Harry Ahrenholtz and Matt Gordon were in favor, while councilmen Larry Teeples and David Sloan opposed the project.
Gordon changed his mind at the May 22 meeting and voted against accepting the gift of the house.
His comments indicated that the number of people — residents of the Lincoln Way neighborhood and others — who had expressed their opposition to the project caused his change of heart.
Gordon had initially not been in favor of the project, but at the meeting two weeks earlier he had joined Ahrenholtz and Wetrich to give Sorensen permission to proceed.
At that time, Ahrenholtz and Wetrich — and Gordon — explained that they thought the project was significantly unique and that the city’s cost risk before a buyer would appear was worth the potential result.
Teeples and Sloan thought the risk was more than the city should take on.
At the May 22 meeting, Steve Brown and Denise O’Brien Van, residents of the Lincoln Way neighborhood, spoke against the project. They had earlier sent the councilmen a letter signed by 31 people, some of them neighborhood residents, opposing the project.
The letter cited the cost risk to the city from the project, the possibility that the house could stand vacant for some time for lack of a buyer, the decay to the house that could result, and the possibility that the property would then turn into a deteriorated rental.
Speaking on behalf of the proposal were Susan Laehn and Rick Morain.
Laehn said she and her husband Thomas had some interest in acquiring the home from the city after it was moved, but that because Thomas Laehn is running for county attorney in the November election, they didn’t feel they were in a position to make that commitment at the present time.
Thomas Laehn is the only announced candidate for the county attorney position, but deadlines for other candidates to be nominated by political party conventions have not yet arrived.
Laehn explained to the council that she had restored an older Victorian home in London, doing much of the work herself, and that she thought the project proposed by Sorensen was doable financially. She expressed her passion for preserving historic homes rather than tearing them down.
Morain said he and his wife Kathy, whose home property adjoins the Lincoln Way site on the south, thought the house would fit with other homes in the neighborhood better than a new one-story house. Someone who was willing to invest in the State Street house under the Sorensen proposal would be likely to take good care of it, he said.
In other action, the council approved the amendment to the current 2017-18 city budget as published. Under Iowa law, local governments can amend their budget before the end of the fiscal year of that budget (in this case, that date is June 30).
The amendment has no effect on this year’s property taxes; expenditures are paid from additional revenues and/or existing balances. No one from the public spoke at the public hearing that preceded the amendment’s approval.
The council approved the transfer of two vacant lots it owns at 507 N. Cedar St. and 506 E. Clark St. to Region XII Council of Governments. Region XII is seeking a grant that would enable it to build new homes on the lots and provide buyers with down payment help for the homes. The assistance would reduce the likely cost of the homes by 25 to 30 percent.
The council appointed Mary Jane Fields and Susan Laehn as Jefferson Public Library trustees.
The council approved a fireworks permit for Wild Rose Casino and Resort.
The council also heard a report from executive director Peg Raney and other officers of the Jefferson Matters: Main Street organization and approved support and financial assistance for that organization for the coming 18 months.
The council’s next regular meeting is June 12 at City Hall.