Owner of historic courthouse frustrated with city, county
When Steve Jansen bought the old Jefferson County Courthouse building on D Street at the end of 2013, he intended to save it.
The county had declared the building surplus, saying it was too expensive to repair. It sold the building, along with the county's original jail, for $10,000.
He won't say how much he's invested in the building, just that it's been "many tens of thousands" of dollars. He did say he spent more than $72,000 to replace the windows alone. And that doesn't count the hours he's put in — he's done much of the work himself.
"Today it's a stronger building than the day it was built back in 1916," Jansen said. "I really wanted it to be my legacy."
Still, Jansen has inquired about getting a demolition permit for the building. He's considering turning it into a private park for the car clubs he's in.
He said he's frustrated with the city and the county.
"Between the hassles with the city and the county, I'm at the end of my rope," he said.
He pointed to graffiti in the alley between Fifth and Sixth streets and said there's often garbage strewn about there, too.
"They won't do anything to correct it," he said of the city. "They threw some gravel in some of the potholes and called it good."
Madras Community Development Director Nick Snead said the city has a graffiti grant program that pays for paint or other materials to remove the graffiti.
"City staff typically contacts the property owner and notifies them of a graffiti problem on their property and asks them to remove the graffiti and if they'd be interested in a grant for the materials needed to remove the graffiti," Snead said.
And the city frequently talks with property owners about trash problems, he said.
"Staff prefers to talk with property owners about the trash problem rather than sending a Notice of Violation," he said. "Talking with property owners one-on-one leads to resolution of the problem in a shorter amount of time. If staff is not able to talk with the property owner, then we send a Notice of Violation, which includes a date that the specified actions are required to be completed and thereby resolve the matter. If the property owner does not complete the required actions by date and time certain, then the city can issue a fine or if the violation is severe enough either staff works with the Madras Police to issue a citation or clean up the trash and request that the property owner reimburse the city for the costs incurred."
Jansen said the county requires permits for cosmetic repairs "just because it's zoned commercial." He said he understands the need for permits for structural work, but changing out a window or patching a roof shouldn't need a permit.
Phil Stenbeck, director of the Jefferson County Community Development Department, said the County Building Division follows state laws, and the county's requirements are not more stringent than the state's.
"The building code outlines what is and isn't required for both residential and commercial roof repair," Stenbeck said. "County building inspectors follow state of Oregon building codes when requiring permits, doing plans examining and inspections.
"Much research has gone into developing the rules, which are the tool for the Oregon Building Codes Division mission of ensuring safe construction while promoting a positive business climate," he said.
"Please keep in mind lending institutions, insurance companies, landowners and others have expectations that the required building code is followed," Stenbeck said.
Stenbeck and Snead both said their departments try to work with property owners to help them navigate the regulations.
Stenbeck said if a property owner thinks the building inspector is applying a rule that isn't required, the owner can double-check with the county. If the rule is required, they can contact the Oregon Building Codes Division or their legislator about changing it.
Snead said that while the county administers the building code, the city can facilitate discussions with county staff to make sure building standards are met and to look at options for compliance.
The Madras Redevelopment Commission also has financial programs to help property owners if the building is in the Madras Urban Renewal Area, he said. That can include help with exterior painting, renovating windows, facade renovations, and significant changes to buildings.
"The MRC also recognizes that we have few historic and architecturally significant buildings and is open to proposals to preserve or restore those historic buildings," Snead said. "Mr. Jansen did receive a $20,000 grant from the MRC to replace second-floor windows to help preserve 'The Old Courthouse' building."
Jansen said he would like to see a historic district downtown, but he said the city isn't interested.
"We want new and modern," he said. "You need to keep history."
The building has many artifacts from Jefferson County's history on display. The second story has the original plea stand and jury chairs from the courthouse.
"If you hold up a new photo next to an old one, you'd be hard-pressed to find the difference," Jansen said. "If you destroy the originality, what do you have?"
"My No. 1 preference is to continue to do the upkeep to maintain the building," he added. "I'm tired of the hostile environment. ... There's a lot of blood sweat and tears put into this building. It would sure be a shame to see it come down."
The courthouse building is one of just three Madras properties on the National Register of Historic Places.
The other two are the Max and Ollie Luedemann House, which was built in 1905, and the Madras Army Airbase North Hanger, which was built around 1943.
Robert Olguin, of the State Historic Preservation Office, said the National Register is honorific only.
But statewide planning goals do address historic resources.
"And that process needs to happen at the local level," he said. "More often than not, there's not much of a process."
Because the courthouse has been designated a historic structure, a demolition permit would have to be approved by the Madras Planning Commission or Jansen would have to have its historic property designation removed. From there, the county could not issue a demolition permit for at least 120 days, according to the city's code on historic structure preservation.
Without removing the designation, the Planning Commission would hold a public meeting, and it would be required to take certain criteria into account before deciding whether or not to allow demolition. That includes the state of repair of the building, the reasonableness of the cost of restoration or repair, the purpose of preserving the building, the character of the neighborhood and "all other factors the Planning Commission feels are appropriate."
Associate Planner Morgan Greenwood said to her knowledge, the city has never used the provisions, so there is no precedent to compare it to.
Jansen said he isn't interested in selling the building.
"That would just pass the burden on to somebody else," he said.
He would likely keep the original jail building that also sits on the property.
"I'm leaving it the way it was. I don't want to get rid of the patina," he said. "A lot of the old-timers spent a night or two in there."
And Jansen said his preference is to keep the courthouse, too. He said the building is more structurally sound than many other older buildings in town.
"It's going to outlast all of us," he said.
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