Owner wins a year to fix decaying Oelwein downtown building

The owner of a deteriorated downtown building has 12 months to fix it, according to a court ruling issued Tuesday.

Denying the city of Oelwein the authority to demolish the building at 27 S. Frederick, Magistrate Judge David James Hanson ruled that building owner Gary Wright needs to rehabilitate and restore the building to “habitable, usable condition. In so doing he shall remove and replace any and all wood, roof material, studs, flooring and other material compromised by rot or decay.”

Hanson also ruled that the city needs to grant Wright the permits necessary for the reconstruction, and that Wright can’t use the building as a storage unit.

“If Defendant fails to fully rehabilitate and reconstruct his building by July 31, 2023
then the City may renew its application for demolition of 27 S. Fred. as a public nuisance upon presentation of proper proof,” Hanson wrote.

The magistrate did express some doubt about Wright succeeding.

“The Court will hold Defendant to his word, that his ‘dream’ is to make 27 S. Fred. whole and useful again,” Hanson wrote. “The Court does possess some doubt that Defendant can achieve his ‘dream’. But the Court invites Defendant to prove the skeptical Court wrong.”

The city failed to prove that the building poses an imminent threat to the degree it must take and destroy the building to protect the public.

“No actual collapse of 27 S. Fred. has occurred,” Hanson wrote in his ruling. “Nor has the building caught fire. Sole evidence for ‘emergency’ and accompanying destruction is the city’s engineer expert’s opinion: collapse is ‘possible’ and repair is ‘uneconomical’. At a stretch, the Engineer’s recitations of condition might be taken as evidence of 27 S. Fred’s ‘decay’.”

Now city leaders will consider their next step.

“The city is disappointed in the court’s ruling,” said City Administrator Dylan Mulfinger. “This building has no roof and is not being fixed. The current owner is incapable of bringing this building into compliance. I will be working with council on the next steps at the Sept. 26 meeting.”

Wright has said he hopes to restore the building so he can operate a dog washing business.

He testified that the building was constructed in 1912 and was the first structure built on the block. In recent years it has fallen into dereliction, but it’s still structurally sound, he said

Wagner purchased the building for $1,000, from Barbara Wegner in September 2021. He acknowledged that he will need substantial financing to restore the building, but he “specializes in reconstruction of old houses,” he is quoted in the ruling.

“I just need permission to finish the job,” he testified.

The building is vacant, with no electrical service or water.

Download the court order below to learn more.