ASHLAND – Nuisances, old and new, were on the agenda for the Ashland City Council as the group met via teleconference for the first time in city history.
At the meeting last Thursday, the council discussed the former Ashland Salvage property at the intersection of Highways 6 and 66.
In the early and mid-2000s, the city ordered the owner, Arlo Remmen, to clean up the property numerous times. By the end of 2006, Remmen had not done so. So the city, under the direction of then-Mayor Ronna Wiig, hired a company to do the cleanup in January 2007.
The $60,000 price tag was paid for by the City of Ashland, with a lien put on the property for payment in the event the land is sold.
Recently, the city was informed that Remmen was behind on paying taxes on the property, according to City Administrator Jessica Quady. Another party had paid the taxes, and was starting legal proceedings to foreclose. The city was given 90 days to take action.
Quady said Remmen has since paid his taxes, so the legal action is not taking place. However, the item was still on the agenda and the council authorized City Attorney Mark Fahleson to look into possible legal action to foreclose the city’s liens and interests in the property.
Fahleson told the council that he would determine the cost of proceeding with foreclosure and how long it would take. He will also provide the council two or three alternatives to foreclosure.
The attorney also reminded the council that if foreclosure proceedings are started it will alert other lienholders. And Ashland is at the end of a long line of other entities that have liens against the property, which will be paid first. The money could be gone by the time Ashland’s turn comes up.
The property will be sold at auction, which provides no guarantee that the city will end up being the owner.
“You probably won’t own it,” he said.
The discussion triggered debate among the council members. Jim Anderson said he is in favor of a proposal by Susan Cerny, a resident of Ashland and member of the Ashland Planning Commission, to improve the former salvage yard by creating a park.
“It could be a positive thing for years to come,” he said.
At the Feb. 24 council meeting, Cerny told the council she had spoken with a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln about a possible student-led project to beautify the area, which she called Ashland’s “front door.”
Anderson said the beautification project could be low maintenance, and it would enhance development along Highway 6.
Council Member Bruce Wischmann said he did not want the city to take over the property until it has been given a “clean bill of health.” The former salvage yard was cited by the state Department of Environmental Quality in the mid-2000s for having hazardous materials.
“I don’t want to take on that responsibility as a city,” Wischmann said.
Wischmann later indicated he was in favor of foreclosing on the property, saying he was tired of Remmen’s continued legal maneuvers.
“Let’s get it done, let’s get it over with, let get it behind us,” he said.
Council Member Chuck Niemeyer was not in favor of the idea, saying he was concerned about who would take care of the park if the city took ownership.
“You can landscape the heck out of it and make it beautiful but who’s going to take care of it?” he asked.
Quady said the city would be responsible to maintain the property, like they are at the NRD ground around the Salt Creek bridge area.
The money spent on the clean up by the city more than a decade ago was substantial, but worthwhile, according to Niemeyer. Spending more, however, is not advisable, he added.
“This thing is going to cost the community money,” he said. “It’s going to cost us a lot of money for a long time.”
Niemeyer also noted that there are easements on the property where the City of Lincoln’s water lines are buried underneath.
“I think the restrictions by the City of Lincoln are going to be huge,” he said.
The motion passed three votes to one. Anderson, Wischmann and Matt Meyer voted for the motion. Niemeyer cast the lone no vote.
Earlier in the meeting, the council also discussed a nuisance property currently under an abatement order by the city. The council voted to give Steve Williams a one-month extension on the cleanup at 204 South 23rd Street, extending the date to May 16.
Fahleson said Williams has retained legal counsel and may have new plans for the property. He and Quady asked for the extension to give them time to propose a solution or determine what is allowed on the property.