Building’s fate stirs controversy in Bourbon

BOURBON — “A hot time in the old town tonight” ensued Tuesday evening at the Bourbon Town Council meeting as building owner Mark Smith disagreed with Council members over the disposition of the former Bourbon News Mirror building on Main Street.
Smith, representing Bell-Comet LLC, a holding company owning the building, was accompanied by his attorney from Indianapolis, Nathan Vining.
At issue was the condition of the building, both from an aesthetic perspective and a safety concern. The town of Bourbon has been aggressively updating its public visual image. In the past several months, it has granted funds to building owners for painting/updating store fronts on Main Street. More recently, it enacted condemnation of a dilapidated house on Harris Street, which will be torn down.
The building in question Tuesday is aesthetically unpleasing. In addition, a large hole in the floor is filled with junk, and the entire back wall of the building is removed, leaving open access to anyone who wants to go in. A 4-foot wall erected across the opening is not considered sufficient to prevent entry.
Council members are concerned that children can enter the building and fall into the hole, creating safety and liability issues. The confrontation Tuesday resulted from a letter Zoning/Building Commissioner Bill Keyser sent enforcing current building ordinances.
Smith’s position is that the holding company intends to remodel the building, leasing it to a consulting company which he is also a part of. When Bell-Comet acquired the building, he said, it was in abominable shape. The former owner had removed the floor over the partial basement and dumped remaining fixtures into the basement. The rear wall was in such disrepair that the entire wall had to be removed upon purchase.
Extensive design and planning work has already taken place at considerable cost. Several professional design and engineering firms have been paid to assess the condition of the existing building and create plans for its renovation.
This expenditure would be lost if the building is condemned, as well as leaving an unsightly vacant space between main street buildings. His company’s plans, if allowed to come to fruition, will enhance the downtown look as well as supporting the tax rolls.
Council members, upon hearing this information, asked when the actual work would be done. Smith said he could not answer that because of the state of the economy which is just now recovering and the high cost of the remodeling.
Council seemed unimpressed with this answer. Not raised publicly was the question of why Smith thought his building should be exempt from ordinances which other building owners were required to follow. Also not addressed was the issue of why the town has allowed the situation to exist for several years.
In summary, Council members want the remodeling to be done now, while Smith wants to wait for a propitious, undetermined time for his company. Vining then offered a compromise: the back wall could be enclosed with temporary materials, which would secure the building. This could be done before the next Town Council meeting in December. The permanent resolution of the problem would still await a decision. Council approved this compromise.
In another public matter, Robert Fisher, the owner of Bob’s Lock and Key, requested that two-hour parking limit signs be erected at his business, especially on Center Street. This request was tabled for further investigation.
Lisa Eiser, former Destination Imagination leader at Triton High School and now leader of a community D.I. program for fourth and fifth-graders, said that her students wanted to install hand dryers in the Community Park restrooms. They will raise the money for the units, but request that the town pay for electrical and installation work necessary. This was approved with the Council’s thanks.
On the Harris Street property referenced above, the Council accepted a bid from Morris Excavating to remove the house. The annexation of property north of town and south of U.S. 30 advanced with a decision to contract Umbaugh and Associates, CPAs, to conduct a fiscal study required for annexation. This project will be completed for less than $6,000.
Ordinance 2013-05 was introduced establishing new rates and charges for the storm water utility. A public hearing on the ordinance will be held on Dec. 10 at 7:40 p.m., followed by the Council vote on the ordinance during their regular meeting.
An ongoing problem with employee parking for Harmony Press may be near a solution. The town owns a parking lot behind the EMS building which accommodates Amish horse parking and is also close to the business. A vacant lot exists at the stoplight intersection of Main and Center Streets next to Deaton-Clemens Funeral Home. Harmony will attempt to buy the vacant lot.
If successful, the town and Harmony will trade the lots evenly, enabling Harmony employees to park near their work and moving the town’s horse parking facility to the Center Street location.
In new business, a new portable lighted sign for the Fire Department’s community fundraisers was approved for $710. It will have wheels and a traditional pointing arrow. The first pay installment for Territorial Engineering was approved, as was the 2014 contract with Multi-Township EMS Services for $32,500.
Police Chief Bill Martin reported 886 daily log entries for the month of October and 2831 miles traveled in vehicles on patrol and other duties. He indicated that the county DUI Task Force still had not presented requests for payment to the Bourbon department by the County Commissioners. It was decided to suspend hours working in this project until the payments could catch up with the work completed. Bourbon police reserves will attend the Kosciusko County Reserve Academy beginning Jan. 7. The town has also received a new AED (automated external defibrillator) device as a part of a grant in cooperation with the Triton School Corporation. Council voted to place the device at the Matchett Senior Center.
Street Department Superintendent Roger Terry reported that leaf pickup would be completed by the week of Thanksgiving. Rob Ellis, a Street Department employee, now has his wastewater certification. Council voted to raise his pay $1 per hour.
The new GPS satellite tracking devices are now working as of Tuesday, according to Water Department Supervisor Mike Shoda. A two-day training event is coming soon, after which the units will begin to plot the town’s infrastructure.
Council member Larry Wattenbarger reported that Keyser had taken him to a Marshall County Economic Development Commission luncheon, where it was emphasized that the town needed to work closely with surrounding towns on the U.S. 30 and U.S. 31 improvements.