Liberty Square continues draining Ypsilanti Township resources as officials look for demolition funding help
In November, Ypsilanti Township spent $6,500 boarding up and securing the mostly-vacated Liberty Square townhouse complex.
On Tuesday, the Board of Trustees approved spending another estimated $15,000 to $20,000 to re-secure those and additional units on the property.
The township is trying to determine a path forward in its legal effort to have the 151-unit complex demolished, but in the meantime the property has become a magnet for scrap metal thieves and vagrants.
A woman was sexually assaulted in the Ypsilanti Mobile Village in October 2010 as the township worked to get the park vacated and demolished, and officials fear 17 unsecured buildings could attract similar trouble.
“We have an obligation to keep that place buttoned up and secured to prevent a tragedy like someone being attacked and taken into one of those units, or having one occupied by a squatter during a fire,” said Mike Radzik, director of the township’s office of community standards.
In August, Washtenaw County Circuit Judge Donald Shelton ordered the Grove Road complex evacuated and demolished within 60 days. Residents have vacated the complex, but around 10 homeowners remain involved in the lawsuit.
An appeal to the ruling was filed, but there is no stay of execution on the appeal. That means the township can move forward with the demolition, but it is seeking state and federal funding assistance with what will be a large project.
Until legal and financial questions are resolved, Radzik said, the township needs to continue securing the property when necessary. A contracted company previously sealed 78 front and back doors, but many of those have been broken, and Radzik estimated around 120 doors and 130 windows now need to be sealed.
The company mostly sealed the doors and windows by air-nailing 7/16th inch wood into the siding, but officials found units in which .5 inch wood was screwed into the door and window frames remain intact because they require more work to break.
Although it’s more expensive up front, the township is paying to have the units sealed with the latter method because it’s more effective.
Thieves also have pulled down the public utility poles and stripped them of the wiring. DTE Energy officials decided against replacing the poles and cut their electricity supply.
Additionally, the Washtenaw County Road Commission barricaded entrances to the complex though officials are finding thieves are simply jumping curbs. Radzik said his office considered completely barricading the property but didn’t so emergency vehicles can still have access.
Officials have discussed what funding options might be available at the federal level with U.S. Rep. John Dingell’s office and are meeting with county officials this week to discuss state level options.
A list of public nuisance abatement projects the township has either undertaken, completed or monitoring numbers more than 100, and the effort is costly when totaled together.
“It’s death by 1,000 paper cuts with the hemorrhaging of funds,” Township Attorney Doug Winters said.
Radzik said the first step in the demolition process is finding a company to complete an asbestos survey to help meet federal asbestos abatement requirements, and staff will ask the board to approve an RFP at the regular February meeting.
Trustee Stan Eldridge questioned why the township is paying for an asbestos survey for a project it’s not sure it can afford.
Winters said there are several “parallel courses” the township is taking in the “massive project.” Seeking funding assistance is one component, but the township must be prepared to move forward once it has funding. That means having an asbestos abatement plan ready.
Supervisor Brenda Stumbo said Shelton said the township can’t use lack of funds as an excuse for not moving forward because the homeowners gave that reason for not completing repairs or demolishing the property.
“The judge is expecting some movement, and the very first step is a survey on the asbestos,” Radzik said.
Shelton declared the 40-year-old complex a public nuisance and called it a “dilapidated and essentially abandoned housing area” in an August ruling. He visited the site during the trial to better understand the situation.
Among the issues are:
- Extensive water damage because the units and buildings aren’t weather-tight. That has led to mold intrusion.
- Roofs in need of replacement, most fascia is rotting and brick walls are damaged or deteriorating.
- Extensive vandalism through the buildings left 50 percent of its windows broken and all the vacant units were stripped of metal and appliances.
- A large exterior column outside one of the buildings rotted and collapsed in front of a building.
- Several units that burned remain uninhabited and were not repaired.
- Individual unites are in danger of collapse due to rotting subflooring.
The remaining homeowners argue that their units aren’t in poor condition and they shouldn’t be forced to leave because of the neighboring units. But in his August ruling, Shelton addressed the ownership situation. Each unit is individually owned, and each property owner is automatically part of the Grove Park Home Improvement Association, which is the owners’ legal representative.
The Home Improvement Association is responsible for all of the buildings’ exterior upkeep, and it had failed to maintain the properties in recent years.
Of the 151 units, many have already been foreclosed on and are owned by the township, and a total of 122 will have been foreclosed on by March 31, 2012. Nine owner-occupied units remained as of August.
Stumbo said she regularly hears from residents about the complex.
“It’s probably the No. 1 issue people ask me about,” she said. “They must ask me about it every day.”