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A mayoral scolding

Shabby houses’ owner vetted for poor upkeep

Staff writer

Marion Mayor Todd Heitschmidt sharply criticized the owner of dilapidated property on Arbor St. at Monday’s city council meeting, raising his voice at one point and apologizing to the council afterward.

Bradford Harrington’s two uninhabitable houses at 432 Arbor St. have been in the city’s crosshairs since the council threatened to condemn the property earlier this year. Instead, the council Feb. 2 gave Harrington time to line up a buyer for the property, which sits near the town’s west entrance along Main St.

Harrington, who said a neighbor was interested in buying it until the city threatened condemnation, told the council Monday that he has a verbal agreement with general contractor Bryan Grosse to sell four of the five lots and the two-story home on the property, which Grosse plans to remodel.

Harrington informed city officials Monday that he wants to keep the small house on a single lot, which he intends to fix up and use as a place of business. City administrator Roger Holter said the land is zoned commercial and would qualify as a storage facility for Harrington’s roofing equipment.

Specifically, Harrington, who said he survives solely on his $740 monthly Social Security check, said he plans to paint the house, remove a rotted back room on the north side, and install doors.

“At the last meeting you said you don’t have the funds to fix it up,” Heitschmidt said. “Is it still going to be an eyesore even if you get a door on there?”

“I’ll fix it,” Harrington said in reply. “I’ll paint it. I’ll take off that north room. I’ll paint the whole house.”

“If you weren’t going to use it as a commercial business, would you live in it?” Heitschmidt said.

“If I had to, but I’m not going to,” Harrington said.

“Mr. Harrington, you have not, in my mind, been a responsible landowner in this town,” Heitschmidt said. “The properties look atrocious. And you don’t have the funds to take care of it. Please tell us why we should give you the benefit of trying to do something with these properties. I have 1,900 other people who live in this town who are disgusted with the way we allow property owners to get by without being responsible.

“So I would like of you to comment and tell these two newspapers and well as this council why we should not take action to destroy these properties.”

“I thought we just hashed that out,” Harrington said.

“Mr. Harrington! You are the one who owns these homes,” Heitschmidt said. “We gave you enough time to come up with a plan and nothing got done.”

“I disagree,” Harrington said. “I just talked to a man tonight who is going to buy my properties from me. And he’s going to fix it up.”

“I think we heard that from the last meeting. I don’t have a contract in front of me. I’m very disappointed with this. And to be honest, if you don’t have any money to fix up this other commercial property, I’m going to require that you show us you have the funds to do what you need to do to get that property into shape.

“It’s been this way for a long time. So I’m upset for our citizens and I think I’m speaking for most. You have not done a good job of taking care of your properties in the city of Marion.”

Holter said he would present resolutions to the council on March 16 that spell out the repairs Harrington and Grosse will be responsible to make within 90 days.

Heitschmidt remarked that council members Jerry Dieter and Jerry Kline had “been pretty quiet” on the issue. Council member Chad Adkins was not present. Council member Melissa Mermis left the meeting early.

Before adjourning the meeting, but after Harrington had left, Heitschmidt apologized.

“I want to apologize if I offended anybody with Mr. Harrington here,” Heitschmidt said. “But I’ve had enough people very concerned that we’re not putting any teeth into what we’re doing.”

After the meeting, Heitschmidt said he “kind of blew a gasket.” But he added that he did not regret what he said, and that a majority of residents would agree with him.

Heitschmidt acknowledged that he briefly owned an abandoned property in town, 431 N. Cedar St., which is next to Holy Family Parish hall. Heitschmidt said he was approached by a local real estate agent who suggested he try to buy the house from owners in New Mexico who had previously rebuffed offers.

Heitschmidt said he discussed the future of the property with Holy Family Parish officials before buying it, and that he owned the abandoned house for less than six months. He said he sold it to the Diocese of Wichita.

“I gave them the option of, do you want me to clean it up or do you want to clean it up?” Heitschmidt said.

Church officials plan to tear down the house with volunteers and install a parking lot.

“We bought it to clean it up,” Heitschmidt said.

“Roger was getting ready to send me a letter telling me to clean up my dilapidated house,” Heitschmidt said with a laugh. “I told him, ‘We really have a plan. We have a plan.’”

Last modified March 5, 2015

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