Vacant church should soon be history

Friday, March 6, 2020
The former Danish Lutheran Church at 4th Street and Cherokee has stood on the spot since 1887, but in recent decades has become dilapidated. /Photo by Dana Larsen

The long-vacant Danish Lutheran Church in Alta may soon be torn down, as the city has worked for years to try to get the St. Paul, Minn. property owner to take action on the dilapidated building.

It is one of four properties the city has targeted recently for eyesore or potential hazard conditions. One, a home on Peterson Street, was resolved voluntarily by the owner. After the city filed legal action, the owner of a second home on Lake Street agreed to take it down.

A default situation is about to expire on the third, a vacant business property at 211 Main Street. The city’s consulting attorney Gary Armstrong said the city can then file judgement for default, which could leave the city owning the building, “warts and all.”

The owner of the old church building, which has most recently been used for storage, was advised to remove the structure, but there have been some personal circumstances that have delayed the owner from doing so. Plans are to raze it this spring, and if that doesn’t happen, the city can force the issue, Armstrong said. He said he hopes to see action by May 1.

The city started sending notices on the building’s condition in 2002.

Previously, city officials had said that the Hanover Historical Society was not interested in preserving or moving the structure.

The church is one of the oldest structures in the area, built as the Danish Lutheran Church in 1887 with 42 charter members, at a cost of $1,000.

Council member Tom Lane felt that there are a couple of other homes in town that may present hazards, with situations like decks falling down.

Armstrong told the council that some other cities in the region have adopted ordinances to deal with abandoned buildings that become a detriment, with some success - including Sioux Rapids, Correctionville and Moville.

Such an ordinance would not apply if the owner is away in the military, or in a nursing home temporarily, but basically those who “walk away,” Armstrong said. “It is not a cure all, but it can help make sure some properties get cleaned up if they are a nuisance or a safety hazard.”

If properties are a clear public safety risk, the city can also take immediate action, according to the attorney.