Amid its owner’s appeals, a 110-year-old house near the superblock in the Prospect Park neighborhood is set to be demolished in the coming months.
The house, located at 636 Ontario St. SE, is owned by Mark Zaragoza, a former custodian at the University of Minnesota.
Despite the age and failing condition of houses in the mostly student-occupied neighborhoods around the University, demolitions are rare.
City staff inspection reports said the property was substandard. Among other issues, the foundation is collapsing and the floors are sagging. The electrical wiring and heating system are outdated and insufficient.
New plumbing would also be required to revive the house as the copper from the pipes had been stolen, according to the reports.
This wasn’t the only crime that hurt the house — Zaragoza said neighborhood children also broke the windows, one of the reasons that led him to board the property.
Since losing his custodian position at the University at the end of 2007 and facing other personal and family challenges, Zaragoza said the city has been unforgiving in the process of ordering demolition for the house.
In February, the city sent Zaragoza a Director’s Order to demolish the building with the option of appealing, which he did, said Kellie Jones, manager of administrative services for Minneapolis problem properties.
In his appeal, Zaragoza said the building was "in the process of selling or rehab."
The city rejected this appeal, and the order to demolish was consistently upheld, Jones said.
"I was appealing for their help," Zaragoza said. "They were just saying, ‘Well, this was recommended, that was recommended, and we’re holding up the recommendations.’ Boom."
At a subsequent meeting in April, Zaragoza admitted to the city’s Nuisance Condition Process Review Panel that the property had been unoccupied for four years and he owed back taxes on it.
Zaragoza admitted he boarded up the house and had "put his head in the sand" since 2008 due to a period of personal issues. "I was an absentee landlord," he said.
However, he felt the city of Minneapolis should have been more forgiving when he tried in the final hours to save the building.
"When I did [reach out], I was almost dealt [with] like I was a nuisance," Zaragoza said. "When I was trying to work within the system, the system just seemed to fast-track me out."
On June 18, the full Minneapolis City Council voted to uphold the demolition, which is the final and deciding factor in the process.
Four neighbors within 350 feet of the house submitted Community Impact Statements for the property. All respondents cited a decrease in area property values in their support of the demolition
"The property was falling down," said Dick Poppele, president of the Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association. "It was not kept up."
As of June 21, of 429 condemned properties in Minneapolis, only two others are in Prospect Park. The Como neighborhood features one such property and there are none in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, though one house was recently demolished there.
"That number [citywide] … clearly went very high when we were at the height of the foreclosure crisis," Jones said. "It’s coming down a little bit, but it’s still coming down slowly."
Jones said condemned properties pose fire hazards, lower surrounding property values and can also attract "squatters," or homeless individuals who
reside in the properties.
The demolition will likely take place within 60 to 90 days of the June 18 decision, Jones said.
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