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Whitewood to proceed with abatement

November 14, 2018

WHITEWOOD — Whitewood’s city council gave city attorney Sara Frankenstein authority to proceed with an abatement action on the old Tony’s Motel building just off Interstate 90.

Whitewood Building Inspector Chris Chiller said that in an abatement action, the city deems the structure is dangerous and/or a blight on the community. He provided background to the council at the regular meeting Nov. 5.

Chiller said former police chief Doug Moser contacted him over a year ago about the possibility of closing the motel because of nuisance issues. Word came down that original owner Tony Pfeiffer was selling the motel to another party: Ag Dakota LLC in California. That put things on hold.

The group applied for an operation license from the state health department. An inspector and Chiller walked through the building, where a number of health and safety violations were found.

A local family worked on the building and managed the motel. Some serious structural deficiencies were discovered, and trash littered the parking lot.

Chiller, with the help of Frankenstein and fellow attorney Chris Christianson, sent an abatement letter July 30. This allowed the receiving party time to start repairs and make a plan.

The owners did not respond to attempts to contact the Whitewood officials.

Another letter was sent about two weeks ago notifying the owners there was still trash in the parking area. That was to be removed by Nov. 1, and Chiller said that was done Nov. 3.

Lawrence County’s current documents indicate Ag Dakota owns the building, Chiller said.

Ag Dakota LLC notified Chiller it was trying to turn the motel back to Pfeiffer. Chiller said part of the impediment for them was that International Property Maintenance codes say an ownership transfer must be accompanied by a signed, notarized letter to him saying they are aware of the abatement issues and accept responsibility without conditions.

Ag Dakota LLC representative Alan North told Chiller if the group is unable to transfer the building back to Pfeiffer, they will tear down the building themselves.

“It’s not necessarily what we want, but we can’t repair the building,” Chiller said. That public building was erected in 1994.

“We have a long history of being told things that don’t happen, over and over, from both parties,” Chiller said.

Chiller recommended proceeding with whatever legal steps are needed. “At the same time, we are able to lien the property for any of the legal fees that we incur as part of this,” he said, while stressing the importance of the city being protected.

Frankenstein recommended filing a civil action complaint with the county court. She said the city could sue for money damages or abatement, with a third option of tearing down the building.

If the city chooses the third option, Frankenstein recommends getting court approval beforehand.

“It is an eyesore, but it is that guy’s property and his building,” Mayor Mitch Harmon said. He sought council input.

“How far do we go to tell somebody, you have to do this, or we’re going to fine you?” Councilman Randy Wiege asked. He said the building’s problems are not visible from the outside.

Wiege said the building is not capable of having people live in it. He added that, to the best of his knowledge, there are no plans to have anyone live in it now.

“The point of everything here is not that I’m gung-ho to tear that building down,” Chiller said. “I’m trying to get the people that own it to take it seriously and do something with it.”

Chill re-emphasized he has reached this point because no other communication efforts have worked.

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