Mayor continues to address cleanup of properties

The crumbling corner of the Sweet Jane’s restaurant building in Lisbon has changed little in two years. (Photo by Patti Schaeffer)

LISBON –No building in downtown Lisbon perhaps better demonstrates what Mayor Joe Morenz is trying to accomplish than the former Sweet Jane’s restaurant.

Badly in need of repair, officials were excited when Elkrun Township resident Jerry Mimna purchased the building in July 2014 for $12,211 in back taxes. The village had closed the sidewalk along South Market Street for safety reasons after several bricks had fallen from the upper level of the two-story brick building, located at the corner of South Park Avenue.

Village officials indicated at the time they were willing to work with Mimna, including waiving the daily fine that could be imposed until the structural issues were corrected. While Mimna immediately addressed the problem area where the bricks had fallen onto Market Street, he has yet to repair the bottom section of the corner, which has begun to crumble.

This prompted Morenz, who became mayor in January, to send Mimna a letter about the need for bringing the building into compliance with village code, which resulted in a meeting held in early October also attended by village fire inspector Kurt Gresh and zoning inspector Bruce Carman. Morenz described the meeting as productive, with the parties agreeing the crumbling corner — the chief concern — was caused by overflow from the downspout that runs down the corner and into the storm sewer system under the sidewalk.

Morenz said the downspout is inadequate to handle heavy rainfalls, and Mimna indicated he had asked the village two years ago for permission to install a larger downspout because it empties into the drainage system under the sidewalk. Mimna said he never heard back, but Morenz told him to pursue installing a larger downspout.

Village officials are concerned about the structural integrity of the corner, which is why Morenz asked for the meeting. “We don’t want a situation like the McCook House Tavern, where it collapses some day,” he said, referring to the historical brick tavern in town that had fallen into disrepair to the point where it just collapsed. Mimna, whose background is in construction, said he intends to immediately correct the downspout and corner problems, along with replacing the large plate glass window on the front of the building with more historically accurate smaller windows. He has been waiting until matching bricks could be located.

“Not that the building is unstable, because it isn’t, but we’re going to begin to fix that first to make it look better,” he said.

The building is believed to be about 200 years old, and Mimna said his goal is still to restore its historical look and find a tenant. The Happy Clipper beauty salon leases another section of the building.

“The main reason I bought it is because I want to get involved in the whole historical aspect,” he said, but the restoration was put on hold while he worked on some more pressing projects. Mimna said he is now to the point where he can take time to work some more on the building.

“I’m really happy he’s going to work on the building. That’ll be a great improvement, and I expect people will start calling (Mimna) to rent the place,” Morenz said.

At the mayor’s urging, council has hired Town Center Associates, a consulting firm specializing in revitalizing small town business districts. Part of the plan that is to emerge includes strengthening village building maintenance codes, but Morenz has begun taking matters into his own hands by sending letters advising property owners to clean up their properties and make necessary repairs to bring them into compliance with existing regulations.

“I’m just doing that on my own,” Morenz said of the letters, which he described as a preliminary attempt to get property owners to take action. Any attempted enforcement action would come in a formal letter from either the zoning inspector or the village solicitor.

Morenz has also sent letters out to the residential property owners, all of whom have complied. He has also begun going after long-vacant residential properties that are subject to delinquent property foreclosures by asking the county treasurer’s office to make them a priority.

“If a home is abandoned and owes back taxes, I can ask (the treasurer) to speed up the foreclosure process and they’ll do that for us,” he said.

Morenz has done that in four instance so far and ended up purchasing one of those properties (347 Thomas Road) at a county auditor’s sale after there were no bidders at two required foreclosure sales.

“People had plenty of chances to buy that place. It went to auction three times,” he said. “There was no inside deal or anything like that.”