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Fairmont helps with demolition

FAIRMONT — Cleaning up blighted properties has been a priority for the Fairmont City Council for several years, and the council has made a significant financial commitment to furthering that goal. This week, the council voted unanimously to contribute up to $35,000 to assist with the demolition of seven homes at a mobile home park at 1528 Albion Ave.

Lee Beemer had requested financial aid in tearing down the structures through the city’s demolition assistance program. Since 2012, the council has budgeted $80,000 a year for the fund, with any unused money carried over to the next year.

Prior to demolition, a property owner can apply for a grant for half the demolition costs up to $5,000. The cap for commercial properties is $10,000. So far this year, the council has approved a total of $57,000 in demolition assistance through the program.

Beemer’s application for demolition assistance estimated a cost of $10,000 each for tearing down the six mobile homes on the property and $18,000 for razing the house on the site.

City Administrator Cathy Reynolds told the council that the costs were estimated on the high end because some of the structures are still occupied.

“They have not been able to complete asbestos testing in the homes,” she said. “If there’s asbestos, it’s on the higher end for the cost of demolition. If there’s no asbestos, that would reduce the cost of demolition. Final costs will be determined once they can get in and complete all the work.”

Councilman Randy Lubenow asked about the future use of the property.

“The intent is to clean the property up, which has been a council priority over the last few years, and making way for new construction, new development on that piece of property,” Reynolds said.

Beemer’s application for assistance estimated a cost of $500,000 to rehabilitate the property for reuse for a new building. No further information about a timeline or intended future use of the property was available from the application or from Beemer.

Lubenow said he hears from contractors that Fairmont is “not especially friendly to new development.”

“I think if we could get somebody locally that wants to invest in the community and develop this land into something that could be useful other than what it’s being used for currently, I would hope that the city would be behind that and would support that,” he said. “I would just ask for the city staff’s commitment to also follow through with any uses Beemer has for this property.”

“City staff has been in ongoing discussions with Mr. Beemer about possible development opportunities,” Reynolds said. “We’ve had meetings with him, looking at the property, looking at options and looking at requirements under our codes. That is already ongoing, and that will continue.”

She went on to say that city staff is “working hard to change that opinion” that Fairmont does not welcome new development.

“I know that impression does exist, and city staff is actively working to stop that impression and to work with developers. We are very busy working with new developers at this point in time,” Reynolds said.

Lubenow then asked, if city staff knows what the development is, why would the council not be informed?

“Many developers, when they are looking at options, that information is confidential, and it’s not ready to be discussed in a public forum,” Reynolds said. “There are certain things that are not public knowledge. Those discussions that occur with city staff need to remain with city staff for a period of time until it can be public knowledge.”

Mayor Debbie Foster said discretion is vital to a developer having confidence in city staff, and information will become public at the appropriate time.

“We trust our staff that they will do things that are in the best interest of the city,” she said.

Foster went on to commend Lee Beemer and Beemer Companies for their commitment to the community that goes“way beyond anything that most of us even know.” Their assistance with the Adventure Playground at Gomsrud Park and the Cobra helicopter at the Martin County Veterans Memorial are just two examples.

“They didn’t have to do that,” Foster said. “He has a real vested interest in our community, and I applaud him for taking an opportunity to make our city better. City staff is working with him to make sure that happens. This is exactly what we’re looking for.”

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