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Fate of two vacant houses still up in air

Two houses that were tentatively slated for demolition nearly two months ago are still standing—though it’s uncertain whether or when the wrecking ball will visit either one of them.

The vacant homes, located next door to one another at 411 and 413 Benton Avenue, appeared on the Nov. 13 agenda of the Excelsior Springs Historic Preservation Commission. City staff members were asking for the commission to issue certificates of appropriateness for the two houses to be razed. But commission members, at the behest of historic preservation advocates and neighbors, agreed to halt the demolitions to make sure there were no other options available.

The audience members who spoke in favor of keeping the houses said the fabric of the neighborhood, part of the local Boarding House Historic District, would be damaged by the piecemeal demolition of individual buildings within the district.

After hearing testimony from the audience and discussing the matter, the commission scheduled tours of the two houses to see if conditions were bad enough to warrant demolition.

At the time of the November meeting, the structure at 413 Benton Avenue was owned by the city; the house next door at 411 Benton Avenue was owned by Wells Fargo Bank.

Planning & Zoning Director Bill Ahrens said last week that the tours went ahead as planned, with the bank granting permission for the tour of the property they owned.

And while Ahrens refused to speak for the commission, he said his take on the commissioners’ feelings following the tour was that the 413 property was in worse shape and still may be demolished.

“It was bad,” he said, noting that the odor of mold was overpowering to some on the tour. “We’re going to maybe still take that one down.”

However, the condition of the house at 411 Benton Avenue did not seem to be as bad.

“The city has contacted the bank and let them know we’re interested in the property,” Ahrens explained. “They agreed to give it to us, but I don’t think the transaction has actually occurred yet.”

He added that with the presence of mold, dry rot and other potential hazards in the house, Wells Fargo said they didn’t generally accept the liability of passing on such properties to other owners, but they agreed to make an exception since it was a government entity rather than a private individual or company.

Ahrens said that since the historic preservation commission tabled the two COAs at their November meeting, the items would likely be back on their agenda for the January meeting, and they would have the option of taking action on one or both of them then. If, as Ahrens suspected, the property at 413 Benton Avenue is allowed to remain standing, then a rehabilitation would probably be stipulated as part of its future.

“I believe we have someone who is interested, but if that’s the direction we want to go, we would have to advertise and bid it,” he added.

By Eric Copeland •

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