BLUE EARTH - The Blue Earth City Council meeting turned confrontational Monday when a property owner accused the council of treating him unfairly.
Robert Johnson identified himself as one of the owners of the three buildings at the corner of Main and Seventh streets known locally as the "three sisters."
Johnson said he and his fellow owners had good intentions when they bought the properties in 2008. They came to town in 2009 and met with civic leaders all through the summer, he said. That was when, he said, the group was told of a highway project that would affect the buildings.
"We were told sidewalks and whole streets would be torn up," Johnson said. "We would have to modify the buildings to be accessible from the rear by the handicapped."
Because of a lack of room and other physical limitations, "there's no way I can make the back of the buildings handicap-accessible," Johnson said. "We were given two choices: keep it closed to the public or modify the rear end."
He said he and his partners agreed the only choice they had was to close the buildings and that they'd come back in the fall of 2012.
In the meantime, Johnson said, the city has harassed them, saying the buildings are vacant and not being properly maintained. Johnson said he has had people checking faucets, shutoffs and the heater.
"We are not absentee owners," he said. "It's never been vacant; it's a museum. It may not be open to the public, but it's registered.
"I'm a Marine and when I make an agreement, I keep my word. It's fall 2012; I'm here," he said.
"Please stop harassing us. The buildings are in great shape," he asserted.
"When those windows got broken, the next day I had the wood up there," Johnson said. "I can't do any better than that. We don't want to be treated like we don't care.
"Help us help the community. I'm here for suggestions," Johnson said.
Mayor Rob Hammond pointed out that Johnson had accused Hammond, and council members Rick Scholtes and John Huisman of avoiding him and not cooperating with him, which he said isn't true.
"This is the first time I've heard [that] the city told you not to do anything with the buildings," Hammond said.
"In 2009, 2010, you told me you didn't need my help," Hammond added.
"I think, as a practical matter, you have some serious issues in this town. All we've heard are promises," Hammond said. "Are you proud of those buildings? People call all the time (and say) 'Do something.'"
Councilman John Gartzke asked what Johnson's plans are and under what timeline.
Johnson said he is looking for someone to live in one of the upstairs apartments and do repairs and maintain the buildings, and he has reached a deal with the Blue Earth Area Chamber of Commerce to fund a mural on the side of the building.
When Gartzke tried to pin him down on the timeline, asking for 30 days or 60 days or any finite time frame, Johnson said he cannot put a timeline on it.
Gartzke said that in four years, "there's no progress done with these buildings."
"Would you be willing to sell?" Huisman asked.
Johnson named his price at $85,000 per building, saying that's what it was assessed in 2008.
"I think that's a fair price," Johnson said.
Hammond pointed out the progress had not been going forward, but backward.
"The council will decide if you are interested in doing anything or not," Hammond said.
"I feel good about what we've done," Johnson said. "What we did, we were asked to do it."
Moving on to other business, in comparison, the assessment hearing for street construction on Galbraith and Tenth was downright calm.
City Administrator Kathy Bailey explained that financing was done through a $2.4 million bond for 15 years at 2.74 percent interest. The city funds 100 percent of the water rates mains, sanitary sewer rates mains, and storm sewer rates, and 70 percent of the street replacement fund/sidewalks. The city's total cost is $1.6 million.
Residents will be assessed $1,743 each for water services, $1,486 for sanitary sewer services, $73.27 per foot of property front for street costs, and $7.60 per foot for sidewalks, with corner lots assessed at 100 percent of the short side and/or 50 percent of the long side, for a total of $636,430.
Right of appeal may be made within 30 days after the council adopts the assessments, or Oct. 17, and the council or clerk must receive written objection prior to or at the hearing. Deferments are also available.
The council adopted the resolution to accept the assessments.