Concerns about condition of several downtown houses spark visits by Farmington city staff
Complaints about the condition of several homes in downtown Farmington have city have city officials wondering how to rectify the problem.
There are about a dozen homes in the downtown area that are suffering from varying degrees of age and neglect. Renovations have been done -- to an extent -- on a few of the homes, but not enough to satisfy the neighbors who have called the city to complain.
The problem, city administrator David McKnight said, is that Farmington does not have an ordinance in place to regulate the condition of its homes. Creating one is an option, but doing so would come with financial implications and require regulation. That's a step McKnight and council members are not ready to take.
The residents may be unable to afford renovations. They may be elderly or handicapped and unable to do the work. It's those kinds of unknowns that may be prohibiting the work from being done. The only way to find out, McKnight said, is to ask those residents.
That's what he and building official Ken Lewis will do. The two plan to set out over the next couple weeks to visit each of those homes. They plan to talk with the residents, find out what the situation is with their properties, and see if there is anything the city can do -- within reason -- to help them clean up their homes.
"We want to work with them as much as possible," McKnight said. "We want to know, 'where are you at, what can we do?' We don't want to jump off the cliff and do an ordinance yet, but if this doesn't work, we'll proceed accordingly."
A few of the homes have had work done on them. But in some cases, the work was done several years ago and the exterior renovations are left unfinished. The property owners seem to want to finish the work, McKnight said, because they keep coming back to renew their building permits. But the projects are not getting done.
The city has the option to withhold those building permits. It's one of the few enforcement tactics the city has, McKnight said.
"We don't have a lot of bullets in the gun, but that's one of them," he said.
While the city is willing to assist residents, the resources are limited. The city of Farmington does not have a grant program to help fund those renovations, and no one from city staff will go out and do the work. The only real thing McKnight and Lewis can offer is information on the Dakota County Community Development Agency's programs. And for most of them, particularly those involving grant or financial assistance, there is a waiting list for those services.
But talking to those homeowners and residents is essential to the direction this matter goes, McKnight said.
"Talking to them one-on-one first, I think, is the best approach. We just want to see where they're at and what their plan is to get the projects done," he said.
McKnight brought the issue to the Farmington City Council at its April 30 retreat. Council directed staff to try to work with the residents, but council members want to see some progress made, as well. McKnight plans to bring a report back to council in late summer or early fall, after the summer construction period comes to an end.
If there is little to no progress made, he said, council may decide to move ahead with an ordinance.
"Council wants to see these projects done. The complaints are coming from neighbors and staff. Some of these projects have been going on for years," he said. "I remember hearing about some of these when I was on council, too."
That means some of the complaints date back as far as eight years.