Mary Rice and her north Minneapolis neighbors have watched the garage at 2901 Dupont Av. N. deteriorate into a ramshackle eyesore over the past four years.
A car crashed into it awhile back, tearing a hole in a wall big enough for an adult to pass through. The hole was never repaired.
Transients found shelter in the Hawthorne neighborhood garage. Children used the refuse-filled interior as a playhouse. Drunks staggered in and pot smoke wafted out.
The ultimate indignity occurred in early 2012 when a thief hooked a chain from his truck to a motorcycle inside the garage. He then yanked the motorcycle through the side wall, ripping out studs in the process and sending debris flying.
Rice and others on the block repeatedly lodged complaints with city regulators but the garage remained unrepaired.
"It's mind-boggling to me how this could be allowed to go on for so long," said neighbor Jeff Larson.
On Tuesday, Third Ward Council Member Diane Hofstede told attendees at a nearby block club meeting that, at long last, the garage may soon be demolished.
Teressa McBeath bought the property in 2003 for $130,000, according to public records. She and a man registered as living at the house could not be reached for comment.
City citations ignored
In 2006, the city issued the first of dozens of citations to McBeath for tall grass, weeds, garage maintenance and an assortment of debris in the yard.
A year later, McBeath was put on a special list that allows the city to correct violations and charge the work to her, even before alerting her to the violation, according to Department of Regulatory Services employee Louann Wright. In McBeath's case, contractors only mowed grass and picked up garbage, leaving the garage untouched.
"The city does not make repairs to the property structures, except in emergency cases such as demolitions," city spokesman Matt Lindstrom said.
Despite its gaping hole and missing studs, inspectors determined that the garage didn't meet the criteria for an emergency demolition, according to Lindstrom. Emergency demolitions apply only to unsafe, hazardous or nuisance structures. Without an inspector's ruling, the city needed McBeath's permission to tear it down.
Larson said the city should have demolished or repaired it because it was unsafe. "Kids getting up on the roof [and] going in there. The transients getting in there. [It's] not safe for kids playing around," Larson said.
In December 2009, the city ordered McBeath to repair the garage. In November 2011, the city ordered her to "wreck and remove the garage/shed in a professional manner." Neither order has been met.
In recent months, the city attempted to get hold of McBeath to authorize a demolition, but was unsuccessful until two weeks ago. McBeath agreed to let the city remove the garage. Once she signs a consent form, a city contractor will do the work. The cost of removal will be assessed to her property taxes.
In early 2012, the city's 311 operators told both Rice and Larson to stop calling; The city knew of the problem and the neighbors' complaints would no longer be logged.
"If an existing violation order is open, then a duplicate complaint would not be created," Lindstrom explained.
Response was incorrect
But Hofstede told block club members the response by 311 operators "is absolutely unacceptable." The 311 system records the number of calls made on each issue. "[Calling] is what determines action and resources," Hofstede said.
"[The neighbors] are very engaged as we are asking them to be engaged and we are not able to make it work for some reason," Hofstede said.
Block club attendees blame their location. "The only reason they haven't done anything about it is because of our neighborhood. If it was southwest Minneapolis, it would be taken care of right away," said Dale Hulme, pastor at nearby St. Olaf Lutheran Church.
Owner owes back taxes
"We could have bought a new garage for the amount of time and money [the city has] spent on this," Hofstede said. "Basically, this is a very expensive example of something not working."
Since 2006, McBeath has been fined $16,594.50 for failing to correct violations. Most of that was assessed to her property taxes after she failed to pay, city records show.
Currently, McBeath owes $11,225.56 in back taxes, dating to 2010, according to Ken Rowe, a manager for Hennepin County Taxpayer Services. An additional $4,742.50 in fines for property violations has yet to be added to her taxes.
Hennepin County received a judgment against the property in April 2011. "Unless the delinquent taxes are paid in full before the expiration of the redemption period in the spring of 2014, the parcel will forfeit to the state," Rowe said.
A block club member suggested that with the property razed, three contiguous empty lots would make for an attractive development opportunity.
"Who would build here?" Rice asked the group.
No one had an answer.