Trash or treasure? Williams must clean property before receiving building permit

Trash or treasure? Williams must clean property before receiving building permit The Vermillion City Council has decided that Matthew Williams must make an effort to clean his property before receiving a building permit to construct an addition on his house at 525 Cottage Street. by David Lias One man's trash may be another man's treasure.

That quaint saying rang true time and again as the Vermillion City Council grappled May 7 with the difficult issue of whether to grant a building permit to Matthew Williams, who resides at 525 Cottage Street.

After nearly an hour of discussion, the council agreed to give Williams 30 days to discard the refuse around his residence, and asked him to compile an inventory list of items he plans to use in the construction of an addition to his house.

The matter is complicated by the design and materials of the structure Williams wants to build, and the fact that the yard surrounding Williams' house has been deemed a nuisance by City Building Inspector Farrel Christensen.

In March, Christensen informed the city council that the code enforcement department had been working to convince Williams that he must remove junk from his yard.

Williams claimed at that time the items located around his property, such as pieces of lumber, wood, and other debris, were building materials.

He also claimed that it wasn't improper for him to park a truck on his front yard, despite a city ordinance that prohibits front yard parking.

Williams noted that he received the building materials last fall, and before he could do anything with them, Vermillion was hit with a blizzard.

Christensen told the council that he understood Williams' dilemma. He added, however, that despite improvements in the weather this spring and communication with the city about the appearance of his property, Williams had taken no action.

"At that time the council did empower me to abate the nuisance, as there was determined to be one," Christensen said. "Since then, the owner has applied for a building permit."

Christensen told the council that since Williams' house doesn't conform to city codes, any structural alteration may only be approved by granting a variance to the city's zoning ordinance.

Williams' application included a rough sketch of the building addition � a structure that, when completed, would stretch from his front sidewalk to his house, which is set back more than 70 feet in his lot.

The addition would be nine feet high, and built of mixed sizes of lumber.

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According to the application, "some historic fence designs, bench styles, antique gates and doorways and picket fences will be incorporated into the ongoing development of a herb and sculpture garden much in the same way the Shakespearean garden at the University of South Dakota is an evolving artistic and educational space."

It also apparently will not have a fixed roof. Instead, the structure will be covered by vines.

Christensen recommended that a variance for the structure not be approved.

"I cannot think of a structure like this anywhere else in town. This is done by variance in these old non-conforming neighborhoods and it is my feeling that it would be out of place with the rest of the neighborhood and inappropriate," he said. "For that reason, I would recommend against it. Initially, I feel it is a structure that would not fit well and should be denied."

Alderman Barbara Yelverton, however, believes Williams' idea has merit.

"I guess that neighborhood has a real mix-mash of different things going on there, and looking at the schematic here, I think it would be an improvement," she said. "If this would happen, it sure would look a lot better than it does now."

"The structure itself is very slim on structure. It gets to the point of just being a post and frame assembly," Christensen said. "He did give me some documentation on some vines that he intends to grow over the top of it, so it really wouldn't have a covered roof, and it's almost to the point of not being classified a car port."

Williams is apparently trying to solve two problems at once: 1) clean his lot of refuse by using it to build the addition, and 2) use the addition as a car port so he can park his truck in the area of his front yard.

"I guess my big concern is that it would be for parking. It is intended to be a car port, whether it really resembles one or not," Christensen said. "Until the vines grew or if did they grew, or if they were allowed to grow by the next owner, the majority of what we are going to see here are cars and parking.

"It has the potential to be an attractive structure, but it also has the potential to be a very unattractive structure," he added, "and it is a somewhat risky proposition to approve that."

Alderman Jack Powell said he is bothered by Williams' vague description of the building methods he plans to use. Williams wrote that his addition will be constructed using several connection systems best fitted to the various adaptations of his materials.

"These connections may include historic splices, lag and threaded bolts, eyes, washers, copper capped joints, tin work, iron brackets, chain, cable, and wire adaptations to create a charming rhythmic outdoor space for people, plants sculpture and the occasional vehicle."

"Certainly if you do allow this, the truck could be parked there. And the problem I have is we have had a long time trying to get to the junk and we haven't gotten to it. It is truly junk and debris," Christensen said. "I appreciate Matthew's plan, but I am really under some compulsion by the neighbors and many people in town to clean up this property, and I think by issuing a building permit for such a structure, we might run afoul of those clean up efforts."

If the city issued Williams a building permit, he would have to begin work on the project within six months. He would have two years from the date of its issue to complete the structure.

"I personally don't believe this is a bad structure. I've seen these things done, and if they're done correctly, they're beautiful," Yelverton said. "But I agree, there's a lot of junk there, and I think Matthew needs to show us that he intends to remove some of those things."

Williams indicated that he hasn't made a good faith effort to respond to the city's concern because he felt the city hasn't responded appropriately to complaints he made of light from the Elm Street Apartments parking lot shining into his house.

"I'm very reluctant to do a major improvement on this structure if I can't use my own yard the way I want to," Williams said. "I can't use the whole back of my property at night because of light that is glaring on me, and I've begged for help on that a year and half ago."

"We have an agenda item here which is a variance, and the council will take action on the other item at another date," Mayor Roger Kozak said. "We need to stick to the agenda."

"We will stick to the agenda," Williams responded angrily, "but the point is if someone is going to threaten me on why haven't you done this, I waited a year and a half to get something that's on the books fixed, and nothing's been done."

"It seems to me that we approved something several weeks ago that hasn't been done, and I'm reluctant to take on something new until that's been taken care of," Powell said.

Christensen indicated that he is ready to do whatever is necessary to clean up the property.

"If for some reason tonight that building permit is not issued, it would be my intention to come in and abate that nuisance with whatever means is necessary. If it takes a payloader and truck, I would abate the nuisance that way," he said. "I think it's time for that kind of action to happen. If it can't be cleaned up by the owner, it is up to the city to remove that junk and debris for the neighborhood, unless you thought that wasn't you wanted done three weeks ago."

The council agreed with suggestions made by Aldermen Grause and Yelverton and Mayor Roger Kozak. Williams has been requested to create an inventory list of viable building material, and to discard materials that can't be used.

He also must present the city with a more detailed drawing of his building plans.

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