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Onaway declines rights on homes; go up for auction

August 10, 2012
Jordan Travis - News Staff Writer , The Alpena News

ONAWAY - Despite ongoing efforts to clean up blight in Onaway, city commissioners waived their right of first refusal for two dilapidated houses they had considered purchasing and demolishing.

A rundown house on S. Veterans Drive and a condemned one on S. Third Street, both tax-foreclosed properties, will go to auction on Aug. 18, City Manager Joe Hefele said. He and city commissioners had considered buying the two prior to the auction and demolishing them, using $10,000 the city had budgeted for this purpose. Instead, the city will require anyone who purchases them from the county to demolish the houses within a year.

"Both of them have been vacant for fairly extended periods of time," Hefele said.

Photographs of the houses, found on a tax foreclosure sale website, give a glimpse of their condition. One has a second-story window open, leaving its interior exposed to the elements for an unknown amount of time. The condemned house has a clapboard exterior that's starting to fall apart.

The auction is at Inland Lakes Elementary School, 4363 S. Straits Hwy., Indian River, according to the tax foreclosure website. Registration is at 11:30 a.m., and the auction starts at 12 p.m.

After three years of nonpayment of property taxes, houses and land become county property, Hefele said.

From there, they're auctioned off to recoup the costs of back taxes, plus fees and interest. Cities have the first right of refusal on any property, meaning the city can acquire properties before they go to public auction.

"We kind of looked hard at three, two of which have homes on them that are uninhabitable," he said. "The other is a little vacant piece next to another vacant piece the city already owns."

City crews have been working to fill in a hole on the third parcel, Hefele said. Now that the city owns both lots, he and city commissioners are considering their options.

"We're looking at the possibility of putting a little neighborhood park in there," he said.

Onaway city commissioners have voted to purchase and demolish properties before, Hefele said. In his 11 years with the city, more than 50 houses have been demolished, although some have been done with private funds.

"The overall premise is, when we get those homes out of there, land values increase," he said.

As a result, people are more likely to make improvements to their homes, or move into a neighborhood, he said.

However, at around $4,500 apiece, just purchasing the houses would have drained the city's acquisition and demolition budget of all but $1,000, Hefele said. The cost of demolition would be considerably more, even if the Onaway Area Fire Department were to use them for controlled-burn training exercises.

"The city is not interested in spending $9,000 on these two properties," he said. "We don't have any use for them, and it's two properties we'd end up having to mow."

If the two vacant houses don't sell at auction, Hefele and the county treasurer could discuss other arrangements, he said. He wasn't sure what this could entail.

People have purchased dilapidated houses and torn them down before, Hefele said. Neighbors who want to get rid of the eyesores use the vacant lots as an extension of their lawns or as a place to build a garage.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5688.



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