The county will demolish a deteriorating building on East Park Street and recoup $25,000 of the costs from the owners if commissioners authorize the move under a 2019 ordinance designed for such circumstances.
The owners of the building, Silver Bow Properties, said the city had them “over a barrel” and fighting the process would have cost far more.
County officials first deemed the vacant building at 135 E. Park Street as dangerous in March 2019 and did so again in November 2019, after commissioners enacted an ordinance designed to more aggressively curb blight.
A notice posted on the building door cites the new ordinance and says the building is dangerous because the roof and second floor have collapsed and there are possible structural failures of the east wall.
The building is on the northwest corner of Park and Arizona streets, tucked between the Rescue Mission Bargain Center and a shorter, vacant building, across the corner from Sparky’s Garage.
Under a settlement proposal before commissioners Wednesday night, the county would take ownership of the building and tear it down and Silver Bow Properties would pay $25,000 toward demolition costs.
Ed Randall, Butte-Silver Bow’s Community Enrichment director, said the true costs could run from $50,000 to $60,000, but said a lot of time and consideration went into the settlement and the building had to come down, especially for safety reasons.
“It is a dangerous building,” Randall said Tuesday. “It is no good.”
He said it is possible grant funds could offset some of the costs, too. Regardless, if commissioners OK the move, Public Works crews would carry out the demolition soon.
The 2019 ordinance allows more county officials to declare a building dangerous and gives owners shorter, stricter deadlines on challenging demolition or repair orders.
If building owners are given a directive to repair or demolish a structure, they have 30 days to appeal it, first to an existing Building Board of Appeals. Those decisions can then be appealed in District Court.
Under the proposed settlement, the county would release a lien on the building, take ownership and Silver Bow Properties would pay $10,000 up front, with the remaining $15,000 paid in five monthly installments of $3,000 from December through April.
County officials say the building is “historic property” within the Butte-Anaconda National Historic Landmark District, but it can be torn down without a normal, formal review process by preservation officials because it is so dangerous.
The Montana Standard left a voice mail with Silver Bow Properties early Tuesday afternoon and later received a response via text.
It said they acquired the building “a while back with hopes and dreams of being able to save her,” even though the back wall had collapsed a few decades before and the roof had been falling in for some time.
A few things changed in their lives, the text said, and the market in Butte had yet to reach a point where the project was feasible.
“We had the building up for sale in hopes someone else would be willing to save her, but the county was unwilling to give it time and insisted we either give them the property and a bunch of money or they would seize it under the newly enacted vacant building ordinance, demolish it,” the text said.
“The ordinance is written in a way that appeals to this process happen in District Court, which just retaining a lawyer to walk into that court is several tens of thousands of dollars,” it said, adding “the county has unlimited resources to use, we do not.”
County officials say the action is being taken under the dangerous building ordinance, not a recently revised section on vacant buildings. And it wasn’t clear whether Silver Bow Properties had first taken the case to the Building Board of Appeals, as allowed.
Even though the law provides for swifter action, a year has gone by from the time the building was deemed dangerous under the new law in November 2019.
Randall said county officials had talked to several developers to determine if the building could be saved and they also hired an engineer to look at it. It was in such horrible shape, he said, “the only logical thing to do at this point was to demolish it.”
But Randall said officials had spent considerable time negotiating a resolution. He noted in a letter to commissioners that the building had been identified as dangerous a year ago.
“Since this time, B-SB has worked with the property owner, developers and contractors to determine the best options for the future of the building,” he wrote. “At this time, it has been decided that demolition should take place.”
Most top county officials supported a stronger ordinance even before revisions were made last year. They said there were too many deteriorating and dilapidated buildings in Butte, especially Uptown, and efforts to address them get tied up in endless delays.
Randall likened that to allowing “demolition by neglect,” and said Tuesday the actions in the current matter show the county is serious about the issue.
The new ordinance has been cited in 15 to 20 additional enforcement actions, he said, but this was the most serious so far.