by Ivan Foley
There are legal questions, procedural questions, and ownership drama surrounding that neighboring home damaged when the demolition of the old Platte City Methodist Church went bad last week.
The home is located at 305 Ferrel St., just east of where the old church stood until last Monday’s dramatic demolition. The Landmark’s video of the demolition can be viewed at youtube.com by entering “demolition of old church” in the search box.
The home was extensively damaged when the east brick wall of the church came down on the house. City officials, after having a licensed civil engineer inspect the house, have deemed it an unsafe structure.
It was initially thought the home had been foreclosed upon by the Bank of America. But property owners of record remain William J. and Mary Lisa Werline of Platte City. The Bank of America is the lien holder on the property, but never foreclosed upon it.
William Werline this week said he declared bankruptcy but the bank never foreclosed. Werline said he and his wife moved out about four years ago and the house has been vacant since that time. He said the family lived there about 11 years.
Werline declined further comment, indicating he had an attorney representing him in the matter.
According to records furnished by the Platte County Assessor’s office, the home has an appraised value of $47,433. Records show it was constructed in 1862, meaning it is 15 years older than the old church that was demolished. County information lists the home as having 2004 sq. ft.
D.J. Gehrt, city administrator, says the city has notified the property owners of record (Werline) and the lien holder (Bank of America) that the structure has been deemed unsafe.
“That notice requires the owners to immediately demolish the building. Bank representatives and Werline have both contact the city but neither has been able to offer a firm date for taking action,” Gehrt remarked.
The city is continuing to work with both parties and expects that an agreement will be reached and the two parties will proceed with demolition, he added.
“This remains our primary option,” Gehrt said.
However, in the event the lien holders and property owners are not able or willing to proceed, the city has initiated the process necessary to require a non-emergency public nuisance removal.
“The city demolition process starts with the second notice of hazard and notice of hearing. These notices were sent to the Werlines and to Bank of America today,” Gehrt said on Tuesday.
Those notices instruct the owners to demolish the building and notify them of a hearing before the board of aldermen on June 25 at 7 p.m. to determine whether or not the building is in violation of the city ordinance prohibiting dangerous structures. If a majority vote of the aldermen decides it is a violation, the city will issue a 30-day notice to the owners/lien holders requiring them to cure the violation (either demolish or repair).
“If the violation is not cured at the end of the 30-day notice period, the city may proceed with demolition,” Gehrt said.
If the city performs the demolition, costs for doing so would be billed against any outstanding insurance or placed as a personal and property lien, Gehrt explained.
“The city hopes that either the property owner or the lien holder takes action during this period, in which case the city process will become moot,” Gehrt said.
If the city process has to go its full length, it is likely to take until at least the end of August to demolish the building, the city administrator said.
A house next to the Werline/Bank of America home would be threatened if the damaged house collapsed. The city last week advised the residents of that home (the Thompson family) at 309 Ferrel to be cautious in entering.
“But we did not prevent them from returning,” Gehrt emphasized.
“I spoke with Mrs. Thompson early (last Tuesday) afternoon and let her know the city was not preventing her from entering or occupying the house, but that our engineer’s opinion was that it would be wiser if they did not stay in the house until the Bank of America either stabilized or demolished the damaged house,” Gehrt said last week.
Members of the Thompson family last week told The Landmark they were spending some daytime hours at the home but planned on sleeping at the home of relatives or other locations at least temporarily.
Meanwhile, Bash is continuing clean-up at the site of the church demolition. Third Street in front of the old church site was reopened for traffic last Tuesday. Ferrel Street, the side street at that intersection, is now reopened for traffic as well.
Jeff Bash, who owned the old church and whose company Bash Excavation performed the demolition, has said he is not sure yet what he’ll do with the vacant lot. Last week he said he anticipates constructing some type of business operation there.
“It’s commercial property. We don’t just want to mow a vacant lot,” he said.
Just one week prior to the north wall collapse, the old church had been featured in a front page article in The Landmark. That article dealt with how Bash intended to restore the building and speculative plans included a restaurant or winery. Bash said an engineer had told him the old church was structurally sound.
“We’re not tearing the church down,” Bash stated in that May 22 Landmark article. “The church structure is in darn good shape, straight as a pin, but the interior isn’t yet safe for visitors.”
That outlook all changed a week later when the north wall came down.
Bash blamed several factors.
“We had a four inch rain. We had not had time to rebuild the area up by the steeple and (the rain) saturated there,” Bash said after the wall collapse.
Historical records indicate the building was constructed in 1867 as a home for the Platte City Methodist Church. It had also served as the local Masonic Lodge for many years.
The building had not been occupied for around 20 years.