He wants it to be perfect. But the neighbors are fed up.
An old house that sits on Spruce Street in Farmington is what the city and neighborhood are calling one of the worst cases of blight in town, and it has been in that condition for more than 15 years.
Lee Kindem, 54, of Farmington, has been working on tearing down and rebuilding parts of the house for the past decade. His girlfriend, Renee Auge, has owned the house for 20 years, but the couple has never lived there. He wants to do a good job fixing it while keeping it historic, he said.
But neighbors are irritated with how long it’s taking and the way it looks. Instead of a roof, tar paper covers the part of the roof, much of the sides and back have no siding, and the paint on the remaining siding is chipped and peeled away so much that it has changed the color of the house from afar.
“It trashes the whole neighborhood. It’s brought all of our property values down,” said next-door neighbor Kim Dralle, 46, who says she has been fighting with the city for the past 10 years to push for the house to be more presentable. “I’m just very disappointed with how long it has taken the city to try to do something.”
In recent weeks, the city of Farmington drafted a property maintenance ordinance to address the exterior of blighted houses around town that have had chronic problems. If passed, it would require them to be in “good repair” and “structurally sound.”
Although Assistant City Planner Tony Wippler says the ordinance is not being driven by just this one property, and the intent of it is not to single out this house, it is “one of the worst cases we have” and has generated repeated complaints.
“There are a handful of properties that have ongoing issues,” Wippler said.
On 4th Street, the front steps of a house are corroded and crushed. Across the street, another house has a couple of broken windows boarded up. And on 5th Street, an abandoned house hidden by trees is in shambles on one side, with shattered glass and broken window frames.
“We really want to focus on the chronic neglected properties,” Wippler said. “[The City Council] doesn’t want it to be so specific that we’re dealing with just paint that’s chipping. We don’t necessarily want to go to those types of restrictions.”
He says the draft he came up with is not specific at all because it was “nothing more than to start the conversation.” The council and Planning Commission hope to have something in place by the end of the year, Wippler said.
Kindem says he’s concerned the ordinance could “put some people in a hardship situation if they can’t afford to [fix] it.” One reason the house he’s working on has taken longer to finish is that Auge lost her job five years ago and couldn’t afford to pursue the project more quickly.
“To me, it’s not that big of a deal as long as you’re working on it and trying to get it done,” Kindem said, adding that the neighbors may not understand that the house needed a lot of work and more problems were discovered along the way. A lot of the house could have been left the way it was, but he wanted to make it better, so he tore things down, he said.
“If I find something wrong that needs to be fixed, I’m going to fix it. That’s just the bottom line,” Kindem said. “I’m just not going to let it go. It’s extra work for us, and we’re taking on that extra work, but that’s just the way it is. We’re sort of perfectionists in that way. I would rather do it right, even though it takes a lot longer to do. I would rather do it right.”
Since the city gave the house a historic designation years ago, he would like to preserve its history and character, he said. He hopes to have most of it done by the end of the year, especially with the pressure of the upcoming ordinance. It will cause him to sacrifice quality in favor of speed, he said. But he doesn’t necessarily agree that the house looks blighted.
“It kind of comes down, to a certain extent, to a matter of taste,” Kindem said. Having grown up in Farmington, he says these complaints are something new. “When I was growing up, people just didn’t worry about that sort of thing. I grew up next to an abandoned house. People certainly wouldn’t have complained about it.”
Next-door neighbor James Dralle, 47, Kim Dralle’s husband, says he thinks the ordinance is a “fantastic idea.”
“I don’t think it should be allowed to just let a property just dilapidate for extended periods of time,” he said. “It brings down the neighborhood value and aesthetics of the neighborhood — the old-town charm, if you will.” He says he’s been “very unhappy” about it for years.
His wife also feels frustrated and angry, she said. “The wind blows and I have tar paper all over my yard from the roof and siding,” she said. And every year, she thinks the house looks worse.
“I sit there every time I wash dishes, I look at it. Every time I walk down my steps, I look at it. My bedroom faces that. I look at it 24-7. They don’t live there. They don’t have to look at it. That’s not fair.”
Most of the blighted houses are in the older part of town, in the southeast section, Wippler said.
The final ordinance, which will be written with input from the City Council, will be much more detailed than the draft, he said. The draft so far states that exteriors need protective treatment, should be free from holes, breaks or loose material, should have a properly surfaced coat, and should be sanitary. It also states that a city building official is authorized to enter properties at reasonable times for inspections, and that notice will be given to homeowners before action is taken.
“It’s important to a lot of the neighbors around these properties,” Wippler said.
Farmington doesn’t have a large number of blighted properties in comparison to other cities, he said. “It’s like any community. Any community will have a handful of properties like this.”