By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN A boarded up home at 404 Westgate Drive is not a pretty sight, but it is something that neighbors in Westgate have had to look at since a fire totaled the home of Cody and Laura Krause March 28.
Mark Heller, homeowner at 408 Westgate, told the Winsted City Council at its Tuesday meeting “it is really an eyesore for the whole neighborhood.”
Because the home was part of an ongoing arson investigation, Heller was not certain if the city would be able to do anything about the blight conditions.
“It took until two weeks ago for the grass to finally be cut for the summer,” Heller said. There were 5-foot thistles in the backyard.”
A dumpster has been sitting in the front yard since a few days after the fire, he said.
“It is a hazard,” Heller told the council. He was concerned for the safety of children in the neighborhood because one of the windows at ground level, in the back of the home, was not boarded up and someone had leaned a water softener against it to keep the board in place.
City Administrator Brent Mareck told Heller that until two weeks ago, the home was considered a crime scene and the city was hesitant to do anything with the property.
State Fire Marshal Casey Stotts said in a phone interview that his investigation regarding the fire is still ongoing, but he has released the house back to its owner and the insurance company, allowing them to do their own investigation if they wish to do so.
Stotts also said that the city can ask the homeowners to move ahead with repairs to the home for blight or safety reasons.
“I have to look at the percentage,” Mareck said. “I think if it (the home) is damaged beyond 50 percent, then we can order that it be torn down, but if it is not, then really, all they are responsible for is boarding up the windows.”
“We can make sure there is no water softener sitting out or any other materials we consider blight,” Mareck said. “But if they want to board up the windows and leave the dumpster in the front yard, we don’t have anything on the books that would prohibit them from doing that.”
Council Member Bonnie Quast asked Mareck who was responsible for determining what the percentage of loss for the home would be?
“We do,” Mareck said. “If it is close, we should get an expert like a building inspector or maybe talk to the fire marshal.”
The council agreed that the next step would be Mareck having someone look at the house to determine the extent of the damage.
“I think that it (the home) has been sitting there long enough,” Council Member Tom Wiemiller said. “I know it takes a long time to do an investigation, but if it was next door to my house, I would want to see something being done.”