2017-11-09 / News

Former Motel Building Deemed Dangerous by City

By Kevin R. Hess

The St. Ignace City Council has deemed the property at 734 North State Street, the former Marsu Motel owned by Donald Lawson, a “dangerous” building under the city’s building code. The action was taken at its regular meeting Monday, November 6. City attorney Tom Evashevski is now drafting an official order and, upon receipt, Mr. Lawson will have 30 days to either repair or demolish the property.

City building inspector Brian Olsen submitted a report July 26 citing the office building in disrepair with numerous structural issues, rotting boards, peeling paint, boarded up windows, and a section of roof that has collapsed. It meets the definition of a dangerous building under the city’s building ordinance because it has been deemed a health risk, safety risk, and an aesthetic nuisance. In the city’s order to Mr. Lawson, it refers to Mr. Olsen’s report and his recommendation to demolish the structure. At a public hearing October 16, Mr. Olsen said he does not see any feasible way that the property could be adequately repaired. His recommendation was for demolition.

Mr. Lawson attended both meetings. He submitted a written statement at the October 16 public hearing and the decision was tabled until the next meeting to give each councilmember an opportunity to read the statement. In the statement, Mr. Lawson disputes Mr. Olsen’s claim that the property cannot be repaired and further states that much of the current damage was caused by the city. Mr. Lawson’s statement says that an AT&T truck forced soil underneath his building, damaging a wall, sewer pipes, and footings. The damage to the sewer pipe caused the toilet to stop working properly. Mr. Lawson said the sewer pipe was plugged, not allowing gallons of water or sewage to flow like it should, causing it to push back into his property and into a crawl space underneath the building. He wrote that the city repaired the pipe, but the raw sewage had sat under his building for at least two weeks, causing more damage.

Mr. Lawson also disputed the claims about the foundation of the building, saying, “All of the rooms are in as good a shape as the day the motel was built, and it would be a shame to tear down a nice building.” He stated at the November meeting that the city should be liable for the damages to his property and not him. Mr. Lawson is a licensed residential building and roofing contractor and stated that he could repair the property if he were to be given the chance.

Mr. Lawson said he closed the motel in the early 2000s because he wasn’t getting enough visitors and he had run the motel at a loss for two consecutive years. Between deteriorating health and financial struggles, Mr. Lawson says he has not been able to reopen. He stated that he would like to keep the motel and work on repairing it so that he can list it for sale. He asked for one to two more years to do the work and try to sell, but council unanimously made the decision to issue the “dangerous building” order. Mr. Lawson said the inspection report “stretched the truth about the building” and reiterated his belief that the city was liable for damage it had caused in the past.

If Mr. Lawson does not comply with the order in 30 days, the city could repair or demolish the building and charge the work to the property, issue civil infractions and/or contempt citations, or seek a court order.

Mr. Lawson still has the right to due process, said Mr. Evashevski, and could file suit against the city or wait to state his case if a court order was issued to him.

At the October meeting, St. Ignace Fire Chief Gary Sorenson presented the possibility of the fire department using Mr. Lawson’s property for a controlled burn training exercise. That could still be an option, but they would have to get approval from the state and evaluate the feasibility. In the event of a controlled burn, Mr. Lawson would still be responsible for removing the debris.

In other business, the council approved event status for the Christmas Tree Lighting on Friday, December 1. Festivities will begin with music at 4:30 p.m. followed by a parade, Santa Claus, and the tree lighting.

St. Ignace Police Chief Mark Wilk told the council that six people had applied for the open police officer position and three were interviewed. The interview committee will follow up with two of the candidates and Chief Wilk hopes to make a decision soon.

Council discussed the possibility of allowing an event called “Back to the Bricks,” a traveling vintage car show that features approximately 200 classic, custom, and collector vehicles. The event would take place Monday, June 11, and run for four hours, from late afternoon to early evening. The event requires a downtown location and the St. Ignace Visitors Bureau will cover the costs associated with shutting down the streets. Chief Wilk told council that they would need to close a portion of downtown, most likely between Truckey Street and McCann Street, and use the Marina property if needed. The event was brought before council at the request of the Visitors Bureau to identify any potential issues or conflicts. The council offered its support for the show. The Visitors Bureau will draft a resolution to be presented at a future council meeting. City manager Les Therrian said the group could not apply for event status until after the first of the year.

The council ended its meeting by thanking Mayor Pro-Tempore Steven Paquin for his service to the city as a councilmember. His seat, along with Jim Clapperton and Jay Tremble’s, are up for election this year. Mr. Clapperton and Mr. Tremble are seeking reelection, but Mr. Paquin is not. He thanked council and the public for their kindness and said, “I won’t be far.” Tuesday, November 7, there were five candidates for three city council seats. The council will welcome elected council members at its next meeting, scheduled for Monday, November 13. City council regularly meets the Monday following an election to welcome its newly elected members. The meeting will be at 8 p.m., preceded by a work session at 7 p.m.

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