Mayor casts deciding voteto demolish apartments

 A 55-year-old apartment complex at 12814 S. 9th St. awaits the wrecking ball after the Bellevue City Council voted to demolish it after ruling the structure uninhabitable.

Mayor Rita Sanders cast the deciding vote Jan. 25 to condemn a three-story, 18-unit apartment building at the intersection of Ninth Street and Schilling Drive.

Council members voted 3-1 to approve demolition, but failed to reach the four-vote threshold due to the absence of council members Carol Blood and Don Preister, leading Sanders to cast the deciding vote in favor of demolition.

The vote called for the building to be demolished and the debris removed by Feb. 29.

Sanders voted after Ashley Kuhn, executive vice president for White Lotus Group, which owns the property, appealed for time to allow a structural engineer to assess the possibility of making the building habitable.

County records show the property was purchased Oct. 30 by 9th Street Apartments LLC for $105,000, which is managed by Arun Argawal, a member of the board of directors of White Lotus. The property, near Fort Crook and Capehart roads, is assessed for tax purposes at $320,000 and was built in 1961.

Kuhn’s appeal for time failed to overcome the impact of a video showing the complex in a profound state of disrepair with mold throughout. Chief Building Inspector Mike Christensen showed the video, pointing out areas where structure, plumbing and electrical were failing. He said the building has been declining for 15 years and little has been done to save it.

“It doesn’t matter where you go you’ll find structural rot and decay of some form or another,” he said.

Toxic chemicals are stored on site, Christensen said, and those repairs that have been made were performed without permits and without inspection by city officials.

In an earlier memo to the council, Christensen said the building was designated as unfit for human habitation in August and representatives of White Lotus given a list of deficiencies after meeting with city officials Nov. 20. He said the city has received no further communication since that date.

Kuhl told council members that a structural engineer had been engaged to assess the building and list necessary permits that must be obtained from the city. The plan is to begin repairs in 30 days, she said.

“The structural engineer so far thinks everything looks really good with no structural issues,” she said. “We’ll have to rebuild three or four stair towers. In my opinion it will take 10 months for the building to be completely done, but I am honestly hoping for six.”

But council members proved skeptical the building could be saved.

Council member Steve Carmichael, who is the chief building inspector for the City of Council Bluffs, said he knows the building and doubts its structural integrity or the likelihood that restoring it is financially feasible.

“Are you and your architect/engineer aware that you will incur a substantial cost both for handicapped accessibility and fire sprinkler systems?” he asked. “I hesitate to say that thing is structurally safe. I know 15 years ago it wasn’t structurally safe.”

Kuhl repeated that she only wanted the chance to try.

Council member John Hansen cast the sole vote against the condemnation.

He said Thursday he believes White Lotus Group should have been granted the 30 days.

The council extended time last year to the owner of a dilapidated apartment building near 28th Street and Chandler Road, and the same consideration should have been given to White Lotus Group, Hansen said.

“Kuhl just took over and is now the one in charge so it seemed reasonable to give them 30 days and see what’s possible,” he said. “What’s the difference — if it’s been there for 15 years and you give them 30 more days to try?

“If that doesn’t work, then we can move forward.”

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