Posted 7/28/15 (Tue)
By John D. Taylor
Crosby’s city council has been eyeballing Joel Benson’s property, the former Tuftedal Chevrolet dealership, across the street from city hall, for some time.
Some aldermen want to get rid of it because they see it as an eyesore; others see it as a potential site for a future city hall.
Either way, nearly everyone views it as big pile of trouble coming straight at the city.
Benson has told people he might be willing to sell the building to the city, according to Alderman Wayne Benter.
Other aldermen believe the building will soon be coming on the county’s tax rolls, that Benson will eventually abandon it.
Inquiring about the potential sale of the building, the city recently asked Dave Wright from Asbestos Control & Consulting Team (ACCT), the company handling the asbestos found in the former radar base, just west of Fortuna, to look at the building. The city sought a sense of the scale of any asbestos problems it would face.
Alderman Bryan Haugenoe accompanied Wright on this mission, and told city council, at their July meeting, that Wright could only find a modest amount of asbestos -- about 800 square feet of 2 percent asbestos -- in floor tiles.
“I couldn’t stand to be in there long,” Haugenoe told council, shaking his head at the run-down condition of the building, “it’s a mess. And that’s an understatement. If you go inside, you’ll see it will not be fixed up.”
Mayor Bert Anderson wondered if the city should pursue the property, to get rid of it.
“It’s not going to get any better,” he said. “And it won’t cost any less to fix it later.”
However, other aldermen had a problem with the city buying the building.
“He wants money for this, $75,000?” asked Brian Lund.
“He might come down on that,” said Wayne Benter, who has been the go-between in discussions between the city and Benson.
“Should we go after it?” Benter asked.
“I can’t justify money to buy this to fix their problem,” said Troy Vassen. “Wait until this comes back to the city on taxes, then okay. But we shouldn’t spend money to fix this guy’s problem.”
“It’s not that much money,” Benter said.
Lund, agreeing with Vassen, asked, “Why spend $75,000, $25,000 or anything on this? Or do you want to buy the locker plant, too? This is not a city problem, it’s his problem.”
“It would be an ideal spot for a new city hall,” Benter said. “There are stalls for public works to use, it’s right down there in the center of town, where we want it to be. We can save money on building a new city hall using this. And there are no underground tanks.”
Former mayor Les Bakken disputed this idea, saying that underground tanks could be found on the west side of the building, from the time when the building was a car dealership and gas tanks were inside. Bakken thought the tanks might be filled with sand, but wasn’t certain.
Lund estimated it would cost $30,000 to $40,000 per tank to remove any tanks that are inside the building. City Engineer Antonio Conti said that the Tioga Healthcare Center recently paid $50,000 to get rid of an underground tank during their renovations.
Benter admitted the building had its share of problems, including standing water inside and a ceiling long ago crumbled to the floor.
Bakken wondered about the costs of tearing the building down to build new on top of it.
Benter said a 2014 estimate to do this came in at about $90,000. Bakken wondered about that figure, noting a lot of material to haul away. Benter, too, said there was a lot of “junk” inside to haul out.
Bakken also pointed out that if the property comes back for a failure to pay taxes on it, the county would get first dibbs on it.
“It’s an eyesore,” Bakken said, “it has gone totally wrong, but I think you ought to wait until it comes to taxes, then take it. This is a tremendous liability problem for Benson. Anything happens in there, he’s hung. He needs someone to take this off his hands.”
The council eventually decided, with a resolution by Benter and Vassen, to ask Benson if he wants to get rid of the building. The city would take it off his hands. Negotiating points would be the liability issue, underground tanks, asbestos tiles and the city not going to the health department about its condition if he was willing to part with it.
Several days after the meeting, Benson confirmed to The Journal his intention is to “get rid of” the building he has owned for 13 years, and that he has been in contact with the city, but not recently.
Before any transfer could can happen, however, Benson said he needs to finish constructing a storage building in Fortuna to hold the items he has inside the Crosby building.
Benter said he hopes the city and Benson can work things out.
“I don’t want a fiasco,” Benter said. “He (Benson) wants some money for the building, some token fee. You can’t go in and just take it. If it were me, I wouldn’t like that.”
“It would cost us money to have a property for a city hall anyhow,” he continued, “and this is in a perfect location. Once it’s back for taxes, then the county or the city is stuck.”