Orchard Park must deal with vacant houses

December 7, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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The city of Walker would like to put the torch — under Fire Department supervision — to two vacant houses on Bristol Avenue now owned by the developers of the proposed Orchard Park retail complex.

The development has been stalled by the recession and by the failure thus far of the Cabela's retail chain to build an anchor store there. Meanwhile, the two boarded-up homes have been vandalized and are uninhabitable. The houses were condemned several months ago by the city, but the owner — Walker Orchard Land Partners LLC — has not remedied the situation.

In October, the Walker City Commission discussed putting a lien on the properties, but left it to Walker City Manager Cathy VanderMeulen to contact attorney Zachary J. Bossenbroek, who represents Walker Orchard Land Partners, to try to reach an agreement.

VanderMeulen said city officials would allow the Walker Fire Department to burn the two houses in training exercises, but a survey must be made first to ascertain if they contain any hazardous materials such as asbestos. If so, the hazardous material would have to be removed before the fire department could burn the houses.

VanderMeulen said she obtained bids on a hazardous materials survey and provided those to Bossenbroek because Walker Orchard Land Partners would have to pay for that. She said she also explained that the developers would have to pay for removal of hazardous materials, if any are found, but that cost is "kind of a question mark."

"I think there's some reluctance (by the developers) to move forward, in terms of the unknowns," said VanderMeulen.

She said the city's offer to burn the homes "to ash" would reduce the developers' cost of removing the condemned structures, "but I haven't been able to work that arrangement out with Zack yet."

Now, she said, it may be too late this year to have the fire department burn the homes, and that would have to wait until good weather returns.

She said the city may have to seek enforcement of the city zoning ordinance, which requires removal of condemned houses. However, city officials have said Walker Orchard Land Partners will have to pay for it, not the city of Walker.

"We'd rather work with the developer, but we have to follow our ordinances," said VanderMeulen.

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