A group of concerned Minot residents held a discussion at Riverside Park Monday evening on "zombie" homes and what is to be done with them three years after the 2011 Souris River flood.
"Zombie" homes are those homes that are still in obvious disrepair and have not been fixed or destroyed following the flood.
The meeting didn't create any immediate policy or path to changes but was an introductory session to get all concerns on the table and to collect contact information so that they can move forward as a group that can work with the city to move the process along.
Shaun Sipma, center right, introduces a group of about 20 residents to various City of Minot staffers gathered at Riverside Park in the northwest part of the city Monday evening and moderates a discussion on what is to be done about the blight of “zombie” homes in Souris River valley neighborhoods.
A red house affected by the 2011 Souris River flood still boarded up with paint peeling on the ground floor faces the alleyway that leads to Riverside Park where a community discussion was held Monday evening on the blight of “zombie” homes.
Shaun Sipma, former television reporter and anchor turned insurance agent and member of the group, said they decided to stage the talk in the park because those attending have to drive by a couple of those homes still in disrepair following the 2011 Souris River flood to get there.
He also revealed, in an interview prior to the meeting, that it's an issue near and dear to his heart because of all the work he put into fixing his own home after it was flooded.
"I think what we'd like is to see a real priority on this project," a woman in attendance said late in the discussion. "We've all put in time and money and it's more than just money. It's an emotional investment."
That was the central theme present for both the questions posed by the 20 or so attendees and the answers that City of Minot employees and elected officials attempted to provide. The homeowners were fed up with their neighborhoods still troubled with these "eye sores" and dangerous conditions.
Another woman in attendance claimed that she has cleaned "six or seven" yards of homes left vacant following the flood and expressed concern that area children are climbing into the homes through busted windows and playing around and exploring in often very dangerous conditions.
Bob Thomas, a lawyer and owner of a home in an effected neighborhood, said that homeowners or entities that have come to own some of the homes aren't meeting the time, work and investment that other homeowners have made to bring their homes and neighborhoods back to their former level.
"We've been living this way for three years," another attendee said in agreement. "We want to go back to the way of life we had."
Thomas and Colleen Auer, the new Minot city attorney who has had her position for only three weeks, got into a relatively lengthy debate about what legal action could be taken in order to force speedy changes.
Thomas used a story about how he had recently left his car on his street over the time limit and that a ticket was hung. If that ticket wasn't paid it could have amounted to something more, like having his car towed. He stressed that city officials and service workers, like the police officers who hang tickets, could be allowed to hang tickets on homes that have obviously been abandoned and whatever person or entity owns that home would be held responsible for its recovery or destruction with a daily fine that collects until the problem is solved.
"Based on the property owners that I know who have nuisance properties and are just sitting on them, if the city hung a ticket on their door they would clean them up or they would sell them to somebody else who would fix them up or fill in the holes," Thomas said. "But the city isn't pushing them at all to clean up these messes and these old neighborhoods aren't bouncing back like they otherwise should because there's a zombie house right next door or right across the street."
"In response to that I would say that the city has been sending notices out," Auer said. "I can't say that it has been en mass but there certainly have been notices that have been sent out but there hasn't been compliance."
She stressed that some solutions pose legal liabilities to the city. She did say that citing the homeowner for negligence or even a possible criminal charge could be an action. Thomas didn't think that created enough immediacy for the situation. By the end of their debate Auer said that a possibility of a system of daily penalty as well as possible legal action could be used.
One man in attendance suggested that the city maintain a publicly accessible database of the homes that would list their restoration or destruction status as well as their priority level in the grand scale.
Other officials on hand to answer questions was public information officer Bob Lindee, alderman Bob Miller, alderman Scott Knudsvig and city engineer Lance Meyer.
At the close of the meeting the group wrote down their names and contact information, asked Sipma to be the public face of their group, and agreed to watch the Facebook page "Minot Zombie Homes" (www.facebook.com/groups/minotzombiehomes), which Sipma maintains, for future meeting dates.