Council sets January deadline for decision on Masonic Hall issue

It has now been a full year since the NYA City Council began taking action to have the old Masonic Lodge building at 3rd Street SE repaired or razed, and the council’s patience is wearing thin.

Numerous attempts to contact the owner, first begun last September, have gone unanswered. The city eventually appealed to the Carver County District Court to obtain a search warrant to ascertain the building’s interior condition, and executed that warrant on July 9.

That search effort, in the opinion of fire chief Steve Zumberge and building inspector Dave Nelson, confirmed the city’s concern that the 1904 structure was a safety hazard and fire hazard. They entered through an unsecured  window and discovered piles of rubbish, extensive water damage and mold, standing water, holes in the roof, and other signs of disrepair.

During the council meeting on Monday, Sept. 10, the council considered its options, and set a timeline to make a final decision on the matter.

The options before the council were to do nothing further, enforce the repair/raze order and tear down the building or attempt to purchase the building.

If the city decides to do nothing, it would want to document the reason and secure the building as far as possible, but securing the building could be problematic since it is still privately owned.

Tearing down the building is an option, but the price of doing so was not known at the time of the meeting and the city would likely not recover the cost. The cost of demolition would be assessed to the taxes on the property, but the property has been delinquent in tax payments since 2009.

Purchasing the building would also be problematic, because if anyone is injured at the deteriorating property, the city would then be liable. There is interest from the local historical society in preserving the building for historic purposes, but liability concerns could outweigh historic value.

In addition, the ownership situation remains murky, since the person who is apparently the operational owner may not have the building title, which is still in the possession of a previous owner.

While there is no easy answer to the situation, council members seemed ready to resolve the issue during the meeting.

“This building exists only to grow mold and house stray cats,” said councilor Jim Keller. “I’d like to put this on a timeline. I want a date we make a decision. I just don’t want to sit around and sit around and sit around.”

Councilor Carol Lagergren agreed.

“It does feel like we’re spinning,” she said. “I am kind of tired of dealing with this. We need to do something.”

In the end, the council decided to gather information on the cost to demolish the building, the cost to purchase the building if possible, and to undertake a free vacant building survey by a loss control specialist to receive recommendations for securing the building.

A final decision on the matter will be made in January.