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“Rehab Addict” Nicole Curtis gave an impassioned defense of old houses while trying to stop a demolition crew at a Park Avenue house in May.

Richard Sennott • rsennott@startribune.com,

Vacant Minneapolis house demolished despite effort by TV host

  • Article by: JANE FRIEDMANN
  • Star Tribune
  • June 8, 2013 - 6:33 PM

The claw of the yellow excavator tore bite after bite from the two-story Dutch Colonial at 3738 Dupont Av. N. The Minneapolis street on which the house had stood since 1907 was nearly empty of spectators as the building was methodically dismembered Thursday. By lunch time, only a pile of plaster, lath, and wood remained.

Thus ended the life of a sturdy house that stood vacant for almost three years, turned into a neighborhood nuisance, produced a frozen waterfall, survived a tornado and was the focus of a last-minute effort to save it.

“It’s an unfortunate incident,” Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde, head of the city’s regulatory services department, said Friday. “People don’t like homes to be demolished. At some point there has to be an end to it.”

The house first came to the attention of city officials in December 2009, when Erik Laine, who bought the foreclosed house two years earlier as an investment, failed to pay the water bill. The city visited the house in order to shut off the water, but needed Laine to make a plumbing repair before they could do it. The water service stayed on.

In August 2010, after neighbors complained, inspectors issued multiple orders to make repairs.

The following month the city found that Laine was renting out the property without having a rental license. The tenants had to go, but once again, the water service remained.

The house gained notoriety in January 2011 when a pipe burst and the Whistleblower reported on the miniature waterfall that froze as it exited a first floor window. Neighbors were frustrated because the city could have prevented the damage by shutting off the water.

Next-door neighbor Gary Nicholson, who noticed water seeping into his basement, was not happy. “It was like a glacier coming out of the house. I was afraid [my] basement wall was going to collapse.”

The city condemned the property, but it turned out the damage from the burst pipe was minor and a city official said he would recommend renovation, not demolition.

Laine had already given up on the property. One neighbor parked his car in Laine’s garage to make the place look inhabited. Squirrels raced in and out of the house and grass grew knee high.

In March 2011, the city told Laine he must register the house as vacant. Two months later, a tornado dropped a tree on its roof.

Code violations racked up as did special assessments, city records show.

“Cut Grass/Weeds” $234. “Vacant Building Registration Fee” $6,550. “Remove Rubbish” $275. “Hazardous Tree Resting On Backside Of House” $2,654.30. “Unpaid Admin Citations” $1,100.

A total of $23,479 in assessments between 2009 and 2012 went unpaid and were added to Laine’s property tax bill, which totaled $26,191 at the end of 2012.

Finally, in October 2012, after neighbors and the McKinley Community Association begged the city to do something, the house was ordered demolished. Laine failed to appeal the “notice to demolish,” sent to him at that time, city spokesman Matt Laible said.

Nine months later the city made good on its order, just after letting the Minneapolis Fire Department practice its breaking and entering skills on it.

“We’re kind of glad to see it go. Four years is a long time. I’m tired of this damn thing,” Nicholson said.

Neighbor Dean Skoglund agreed. “It’s just been kind of an eyesore for the neighborhood. Everybody drives up, takes a couple pictures of it and drives away. So yeah, I’m glad it’s gone.”

The final episode: A TV drama

The house did not go quietly, as it turns out.

The host of DIY network’s “Rehab Addict,” Nicole Curtis, entered the picture in February when Brian Finstad, Curtis’ acquisition project manager, sent an e-mail to a city official expressing an interest in buying the property from Laine.

“But after we realized the significant back taxes, assessments, and [vacant and boarded house] fees, we had to rethink our strategy,” Finstad said. He and Curtis say they proposed other options and shortly after the Fire Department began its training exercise on Wednesday, Finstad unsuccessfully tried to get it halted.

In the end, the city had no right to make a deal with Curtis, according to Laible.

“Ms. Curtis is a private for-profit developer who has no legal financial interest in this property,” Laible said. “City staff have never been informed in writing that anyone has acquired or is close to acquiring the property.”

“We had no owner. We still can’t even find the owner. If we had heard from the owner and he said, ‘Hey, I’m having such-and-such go in and do something,’ we would have paused,” Rivera-Vandermyde said. Whistleblower could not reach Laine last week.

The demolition went forward.

Demolition: A timely issue

In recent years, people have become more concerned about the demolition of houses, said Elizabeth Glidden, council member for the 8th Ward in south Minneapolis. Glidden said she was thankful to Curtis for rehabbing a house in her ward. The lot, too small to allow for off-street parking, likely would have remained forever a vacant lot if the house had instead been torn down, Glidden said.

“I’m happy to have the discussion be sparked about the broader policy arguments on what is the city of Minneapolis’s role in preservation versus demolition," Rivera-Vandermyde said. "I think there is a place for both of them in our worlds,” but, she added “sometimes the cost-benefit just doesn’t lend itself to that.”

In the case of 3738 Dupont Av. N., a city inspector estimated that repairing the home would cost between $60,000 and $87,000 and the estimated market value of the property was $23,500 in 2013. That’s barely twice the cost of demolition, $10,458.90, which will be added to Laine’s property taxes come January.

Jane Friedmann • 612-673-7852

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