A wrecking ball seems likely fate for The Pressbox By David Lias
Plain Talk It seems likely that The Pressbox, a tavern located at 9 W. National Street, may be destined for the wrecking ball, despite pleas to the Vermillion City Council April 20. The Pressbox was damaged by fire Sept. 29, 2008. Last October Farrel Christensen, the city's building and zoning official, declared that the structure was a dangerous building and ordered it demolished by Dec. 15, 2008. Chad Gruenwaldt, owner of The Pressbox, appealed Christensen's ruling before the city council, acting as a board of appeals, on both Dec. 1, 2008 and Jan. 19. After conducting public hearings on those two dates, the alderman determined The Pressbox should be either be demolished or repaired by Gruenwaldt. Gruenwaldt was required to secure all needed permits for the building's repair within 60 days of the council's ruling. That 60-day time period ended March 23. The city contends that in all cases where repairs are to be made to a damaged building, they must comply with the city's code for construction of new buildings, mandatory provisions of city ordinances, including zoning provisions, and international zoning code. If an owner fails to take out required permits or a permit becomes void, the city is authorized to demolish the structure at the owner's expense. On March 20, Gruenwaldt applied for an extension and a building permit to repair The Pressbox. After reviewing the application, city officials issued a written decision denying the extension and permit application. Christensen points to six deficiencies in Gruenwaldt's application that left him no choice but to deny the extension and the building permit. In a letter to Gruenwaldt, Christensen wrote that Gruenwaldt failed to provide the city two copies of plans showing dimensions and shape of the lot to be built upon; the exact sizes and location on the lot of buildings already existing, if any, the location and dimensions of the proposed building or alternation; the materials of which it is to be constructed; and the details and type of construction to be used. All of those details, according to Christensen, are required by city ordinance. Instead, Gruenwaldt included a list of costs of proposed repairs to the building totaling $90,000. Gruenwaldt also disputed the need to submit plans and conform to current zoning regulations. Gruenwaldt provided the city with a copy of a structural design report, a copy of a letter he received from First National Bank requiring "a full set of building plans" before financing will be approved, the Clay County assessor's office replacement cost and square footage information, and first and second floor layouts with dimensions. Christensen noted that it would be unlawful for him to issue a building permit without plans required by city ordinance. Christensen also stated that Gruenwaldt's insurance company notes that repairs are required in virtually every room of The Pressbox, which is more that 5,000 square feet in area. Gruenwaldt had argued that his renovation project is exempt from any plans requirement because the rehabilitation of the building would not entail more than 4,000 square feet. Christensen also pointed out, in his letter to Gruenwaldt, that a set back issue had arisen regarding The Pressbox because of non-comforming use. To battle that claim, Gruenwaldt is disputing whether his business was damaged more than 50 percent of its replacement cost in order to try to retain non-comforming use status. Christensen notes that a factual determination has been made stating that the fire damage to The Pressbox exceeds 50 percent of replacement cost. He also stated that Gruenwaldt never provided him with cost figures to repair the building, forcing him to rely on county assessor and insurance company figures. Gruenwaldt's proposed project does not comply with zoning regulations, and Christensen stated that variance, conditional use permits or amendment proceedings do not provide needed relief of that status. The dangerous building appeals decision gave Gruenwaldt 60 days to obtain a building permit and begin work, and in turn included the minimum requirements described above. "You have not met these minimum board of appeals requirements in the dangerous building appeal decision," Christensen wrote to Gruenwaldt. Gruenwaldt's attorney, Michael Stevens, noted that The Pressbox owner has had to deal with allegations that he may have started the fire. "Obviously, that didn't occur," Stevens said. "We have spent many hours fighting with the insurance company, and they have now just recently paid the policy." Stevens noted that Gruenwaldt also has taken care of all of the debt owed on the premises, and has received financing to restore the building to its original condition. During the April 20 city council meeting, the aldermen agreed with Christensen's assessment, and decided that Gruenwaldt had failed to meet the requirements spelled out in city ordinances. That means Christensen's order, issued last October to have the building demolished, stands. City Manager John Prescott said Gruenwaldt and his attorney have one more option they may pursue: circuit court. "He (Gruenwaldt) is out of appeals options with the city, so his only option will be to appeal in circuit court," Prescott said. The city manager said Gruenwaldt received formal written notice of the city's decision to demolish the Pressbox last Friday. Prescott said he has 30 days from last Friday to appeal to circuit court. Should he not appeal the aldermen's decision, the city likely may demolish the building next month. It is unknown whether Gruenwaldt plans to take this issue to court. Attempts by the Plain Talk to contact Stevens were unsuccessful. He was out of his office Tuesday because of illness.