House with tragic past remains knotty problem

It’s been just over four years since a Beaty Street home was the scene of a murder-suicide.

While the property is tied up in the City of Warren’s blighted property process, action to demolish the property has been slow. While the blighted process takes time, according to a resident who spoke before Warren City Council on Monday night, it isn’t happening fast enough.

“My family lives with it everyday,” Beaty Street resident Valerie Stilwell said to council, noting that trees are growing on the roof, a mattress and bookcase have been placed to block windows and the freezer in the home still has food in it from four years ago. “We pay nearly $2,000 in taxes and we look at this. It’s the center of the neighborhood. The house sits in the center of Beaty Street. It is truly the center of the neighborhood. We see this tragedy every single day.”

The property was most recently before the city’s Redevelopment Authority in May and, at that time, the authority decided to have the city solicitor determine who is in charge of the property before taking any further steps.

The city has been mowing the lawn of the property.

“(It is) safe to say we sympathize greatly with you on this issue,” Mayor Mark Phillips said. “It was an outrage to all of us.”

Councilman Joe Sprentz said that he visited the house on Monday and he proposed that some of the $300,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds for which the city will be applying be utilized to address this property because a requirement of that funding stream is that it be utilized to address slum and blight.

“It slipped through the cracks and it’s time to do something about it,” he said. “Can $10,000 of this amount be earmarked to tear down this home?”

Unfortunately, the answer was no, according to City Planner David Hildebrand.

Councilman John Lewis said that the “only way the city could act on this property” is through eminent domain.

“Let’s get rid of this damn thing,” Phillips said.

City Solicitor Andrea Stapleford explained that “there was some legwork that had to be done” including determining whether there are any heirs to the property as well as the existence of any mortgages or judgments.

“We’ve gathered all that information,” she added, (and we’re) piecing it all together.” She said that city staff met on Monday to discuss “some steps that are going to be taken.” She said that it would “be nice” if the situation could be resolved without legal intervention but noted that efforts will be made immediately to reach out to the family and “see if the family is willing to work with us on this.”

“There are a lot of intricacies,” she added, noting that this situation is “different than just a blighted property.”

City Code Officer Alan Gustafson said that the mortgage on the property was $14,000 and the “bank just walked away from it. I toured with the person that went through with the bank.” He said that 2012 and 2013 taxes are owed on the property.

“We can’t just ignore the fact that the name on the deed is the deceased man,” Stapleford said. “We have to go through the proper steps to address that. There was no estate opened for him.”

Lewis then made a motion to “direct city administrative forces” to find out what can be done to resolve the situation “as soon as possible” and to seal the home until resolution can be achieved.

“(I) don’t want to send the message that the city has not handled this properly,” Councilman Dr. Howard Ferguson said.

“There is a child that would be a legitimate heir,” City Manager Nancy Freenock explained. “(We) have to get a hold of the guardians to see what their position is which respect to the property. If the family is not willing to give this up then we get into the position where we might have to force the opening of an estate. It’s gets a little bit dicey.

Lewis’ motion was approved in a 5-1 vote. “I would comment that that is already being done,” Ferguson, the lone dissenting vote, said.