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Fireworks at Estherville Council meeting

By Staff | May 19, 2017

In addition to updating the city fireworks ordinance, crackling discussion about a local historic property

By Amy H. Peterson

Staff Writer

At Monday’s meeting of the Estherville City Council, local realtor and property owner Mike Clarken responded to a series of dangerous building abatement letters Clarken has received from the City since last August.

The property in question is the orange Golden Sun Elevator building west of Ace Hardware on Central Avenue. The property is in the original plat of Estherville, and Clarken said it has historic value.

“It’s the oldest building still standing in Estherville,” Clarken said. Clarken indicated he had put in many years of voluntarism and community service in Estherville, and was disappointed in the city’s attitude.

“The whole building has historic value and uniqueness. It’s a sign of a dying town when we start tearing down all its history. When these things get away from the town, the town starts dying,” Clarken said.

The first notice from the city is dated Aug. 4, 2016. Community Development Director Barb Mack’s letter gave the Clarkens until Aug. 29 to submit a repair or demolition plan. The repairs would include removing damaged signage, replacing broken windows, closing all openings that allow entry by birds and animals, and replacing damaged roof sections.

Aug. 26, 2016, Mike Clarken visited City Hall and spoke with city administrator Penny Clayton, as Mack was not in. A memo from Clayton reported Clarken said it would take five years to get the building rehabbed. Clayton said five years was not a reasonable time. Clarken offered to sell the building to the city for $50,000.

Aug. 30, 2016, Mike and Edith Clarken sent a letter to Mack indicating they would remove all signage and close all building openings by the end of 2016, and address the roof at a later date, when funds were available.

“We are offering the city this property for the price of $100,000. At this time we do have an interested party,” the letter concluded.

Mack responded Sept. 13, 2016, indicating, “the City is not interested” in purchasing the building. Mack asked for a repair plan for the roof by Oct. 3.

The Clarkens wrote a letter Sept. 30 indicating the signage was down and the openings on vertical walls would be closed by the end of the year. They indicated they would get the roof done as funding allowed and asked for help identifying grants to help.

“With enough time, we can make the building something people would want to see. The original elevator building is something the community can relate to. The west side is something different from any other building,” Clarken said.

Clarken added, “It could run as an elevator.”

The websites Flickr and Pinterest feature a few dozen photographs taken by Iowans and out of town visitors of the oddly-shaped, orange structure. Jerry Mennenga, a photography blogger from Sioux City, photographed the building on a 2014 visit for his series, “Siouxland’s Lost Little Gems.”

Clarken said he had an idea of billboards on various sides of the building.

“One side can be a portrait of Esther Ridley, another side the meteorite, maybe something with Sweet Corn Days,” Clarken said.

Clarken said an alternative would be tearing the building down and offering it as a site for the new VA clinic.

Clayton said, “We do not have control over where the federal government decides to locate a VA clinic.”

In a discussion that became at times somewhat heated, city attorney Chris Fuhrman intervened to suggest representatives from the city meet with the Clarkens to come to a decision.

“Sometimes people get confrontational, and unfortunately sometimes that’s the way things finally get done,” Fuhrman said.

The city council also changed city code for fireworks sales to conform to the new state code. Fireworks sales are now permitted in Iowa, and as in other communities, Fareway in Estherville will be selling fireworks.

But before eager citizens get visions of Roman candles, chasers, and aerial spinners in their heads, city ordinance prohibits the use and explosion of any consumer or display fireworks in the city. For an exception, the city may grant a permit for the use of consumer or display fireworks by an agency or organization when the display will be handled by a competent operator. Violation of the ordinance is not less than $250.

Fireworks known as novelties are allowed. These include snappers, snakes, glow worms, wire sparklers, and party poppers.

The definition of first and second class consumer fireworks and display fireworks is available in the ordinance.

The council also held a public hearing on the 2016-17 budget amendment, approved liquor licenses pending dram shop for the VFW, Estherville Chamber for Sweet Corn Days, Emmet Co. Fair Board, and Top Hat Lounge, and set public hearings for the renewal of the natural gas franchise with Black Hills Energy, and for a general obligation loan agreement, both for the next council meeting June 5 at 5 p.m.