Council votes to post unsafe building signs

A series of signs will be posted near the building at 605 Second St., declaring that the structure is unsafe and entry should be made at one’s own risk. That followed action taken by the City Council of Webster City Monday night.

The building, which houses Fuhs Pastry Shop, has been the subject of many discussions at council meetings and with the building owners for more than a year. A structural engineer hired by the city determined that the east exterior wall of the building was unsafe and in danger of collapse. The wall was originally an interior wall until the adjacent building was demolished more than 10 years ago.

During a special meeting of the council held Dec. 3, engineer Jim Tometich said the wall in question was never meant to be exposed to the elements. His report from May 2012 stated that the east wall was in imminent danger of collapse and should “be treated as a dangerous situation.”

City Manager Ed Sadler said that by posting the signs, the city would be meeting its obligation to the public for their safety, while not closing the business and giving the owners a chance to address the unsafe building issue.

He recommended that the signs be posted as soon as possible in the following locations:

east and west facing signs on the city light pole in front of 605 Second St. and behind the building on a pole in the city right-of-way. Those four signs will read “The City of Webster City has declared 605 Second Street to be an unsafe building. Enter at your own risk.”

North and south facing signs on the city light pole on the west side of the street on Willson Avenue along the sidewalk adjoining the vacant lot. Those signs will read “The City of Webster City has declared 605 Second Street to be an unsafe building. Maintain a safe distance for your safety.”

“I think personally that this was the minimum we could do,” said Councilwoman Linda Conaway.

“This is something that’s been discussed in depth over the past year and a half,” said Councilman Jerry Kloberdanz. “We have a report from an engineer that made it very clear that this is unsafe. We as a city have do something to protect the citizens and protect the city.”

Pat Chambers, attorney for building owners Tom and Shirley Fuhs, said regardless of what is done, he doesn’t believe that the Fuhs don’t own the wall.

“More importantly, it’s not fair to make them fix the wall when they had no part in creating the condition. The wall situation was created by the removal of the building next door,” he said.

“It’s a project that the Fuhs had no ability to stop, no ability to take part in, no ability to direct or correct or do anything about how the building was removed or how it was left when demolition took place,” he said.

“What the council is proposing is sort of a scarlet letter,” Chambers said. He added that the signage sets the building and business up for public scorn. Chambers said he assumed that the city would still require that the wall be stabilized as recommended by the engineer.

“And that’s basically cost prohibitive,” he said.

Chambers acknowledged that the city was taking minimal action by posting the signs, but repeated his belief that the responsibility for the wall was not with his clients.

The council unanimously approved posting the signs.

Other business

In other business, the council heard a quarterly update from Chamber of Commerce Director Deb Brown who discussed Chamber activities throughout the fall and winter.

Joe Herring, district forrester for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, gave an update on the Emerald Ash Borer situation in Iowa.

Public hearings were held on the proposed sale of city-owned land adjacent to John Street; on the proposed adoption of the 2013 Comprehensive Plan for the city and on a proposed amendment to the code of ordinances pertaining to fences. The property sale and comprehensive plan were approved and the first reading of the ordinance pertaining to fences was approved.