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HRA puts a stop to Nevis student home building project

Nevis city officials found several conditions precluding building the home this fall. The HRA agreed to revisit the project next spring. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

Nevis students who intended to build a house on Main this school year will be packing up their hammers, moving on to other projects.

The Hubbard County Housing and Redevelopment Authority agreed Tuesday to put building the house on hold and to re-evaluate continuing the project next spring - after a procedural manual is in place.

Work on the home was stopped in September after city officials cited several conditions precluding its construction, including lack of a building permit.

The Planning Commission reported the home was being built eight feet from the roadway; the city requires a 30-foot setback.

The HRA requested a variance but the Planning Commission determined the house would have been built six inches below the level of the street. Several potential water runoff problems were raised. A contiguous lot will be used by the city for piling snow. Additional concerns, such as lack of a survey and the location of the garage, led to a stop-work order.

Tuesday, Ray Melander, who chairs the HRA, took issue with the caveats. "The last one put a spike in it," he said of mayor Dave McCurnin's recommendation for a hold-harmless clause between the city and HRA.

"There is no way we can agree to this," Melander said. "It would cloud the title. It's unreasonable," he said, indicating such a move would put the HRA in an untenable position.

"Unfortunately, (city attorney John) Masog didn't develop a thought process on this," Melander said. "The city could dump snow with no concern for the house next door."

"With these stipulations, the house will look like a house on top of a gopher mound," industrial tech teacher Olaf Netteberg said of the city requiring the basement be raised two feet.

"It may be time for paradigm shift," Netteberg said of eliminating a basement. "Maybe we should look at baby boomers who are downsizing and moving to town," as opposed to families with children.

He presented a drawing of a two-story house. "Instead of building down, we'll go up." The plan, he said, would utilize some of the existing footings, but at the proper setback. A bedroom and family room would be on the second floor, laundry on the main level.

"It won't be a skyscraper. We won't need NASA stickers," he joked of the protuberance avoiding aircraft.

Options weighed

Tim Flathers of the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, offered four options for consideration:

1) Walk away. But this would leave the HRA with liability as a property owner, he said.

2) Sign the agreement and build as planned. He discouraged this because HRA and the homebuyer would be required "to hold the city harmless from damages caused by their actions on the adjacent lot or any other permits issued."

The building project would get a late start, with weather an issue, increasing the cost, he pointed out.

3) Remove footings and obtain a permit to build without a variance from code, the house to be built this year.

"It's worthy of consideration," Flathers told board members.

If footings were removed and a permit was sought to build in accordance with zoning requirements, the city would have no basis to require the hold-harmless agreement.

But building this year "would be challenging due to the late start and cold weather. The home would not likely be completed this year, resulting in increased carrying costs."

4) Remove footings and obtain a permit to build without a variance, in accordance with zoning requirements, with construction next year.

"I recommend this," Flathers said, "to buy time rather than rushing to get the home in, to develop a plan." The home would be built on a slab on grade, "so we don't have to deal with water issues."

Flathers urged the board to define policies and procedures before moving ahead. "I hate to lose the spirit of the handshake but we need procedures in place, to be fully prepared."

White elephant?

Kathy Grell, who made the motion to hold off on building the house, suggested the permit process, elevation and survey issues and other homebuilding components be a learning opportunity for kids.

"I would hate to see this be a stumbling block as to what's been accomplished," Daryl Bessler remarked of the partnership between the school and HRA.

"It's been good for the city," Melander said of the estimated $1 million increase in property values in the city.

"It seems to me, we can create a win-win by backing off the basement," Flathers said of continuing a "positive relationship" with the city.

But Netteberg questioned if this location should remain under consideration for the house. "This lot is a swamp in the spring with natural drainage. And that's before the city allowed two gargantuan churches with gigantic parking lots. It may be a white elephant. The back yard will be a swimming pool."

Grell agreed. "We need to step back and re-evaluate" the site.

But Melander urged use of the property, possibly by adding fill to bring up the elevation in the back yard. "I'm thinking of Main Street aesthetics."

"Or we could sell it to the city for retention ponds," Grell suggested.

"Every bit of water from the school to the muskie to the churches goes there," Netteberg reminded them.

"Every time," Melander conceded.

Netteberg assured the HRA board that he'd keep the students busy, asking that this quagmire not jeopardize the partnership between the school and HRA.

The students, he said, will go to work on the home's cabinets to create "high end cabinetry for an entry level house."