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Does Laconia need law to bring down old buildings?

In 1906, at the turn of the 20th century, the little town of Laconia, in southern Harrison County, was home to some 135 people, according to the old “Illustrated Atlas and History of Harrison County, Indiana,” published by F.A. Bulleit.
The oldest house still standing in Laconia at that time was built in 1832 and owned by George Byrum and Edward O’Connor.
That house may still be standing and, if so, undoubtedly could be one of the buildings that may be unsafe and in need of the wrecking ball.
A group of Laconia’s concerned citizens met recently to review data gathered from the rest of the townspeople concerning proposed ordinances that purportedly would help resolve such problems as unsafe buildings, obnoxious weeds and rank vegetation.
Led by Tod Smyrichinsky, who chairs a three-man ad hoc committee appointed by the town board, the group distributed copies of the proposed ordinances to the townspeople and sought their input.
A review of the data shows Laconia is fairly evenly divided on the issue of ordinances, Smyrichinsky said.
Of 11 returns, 10 responders said the town had buildings that need to be demolished. The remaining response was “unknown.”
“The interesting thing is the answer to Question No. 2: ‘Does Laconia need an ordinance to control unsafe buildings?’ ” Smyrichinsky told the group of 11 who gathered recently at the firehouse. “Three said, ‘Yes’; four said, ‘No.’
“The people are on the fence whether they want an ordinance or not,” Smyrichinsky said.
To the question, “Does Laconia have a problem with rank weeds or vegetation?” Smyrichinsky said five responders said, “Yes,” four said “No,” and two didn’t answer.
About half of those responders said an ordinance is needed and the other half said it isn’t. One person marked “unknown,” Smyrichinsky said.
The group discussed other options, which included looking for ways to resolve problems without “such a broad-brush approach.”
Committeeman John Turner said for beginners, passing such ordinances would be “quite complicated.”
“The county would have to pass an ordinance allowing the town to pass an ordinance,” he said, “and you would have to have an unsafe building fund.”
Smyrichinsky said the town might be able to use state and/or county laws which already address such problems. “Why do we need duplicates of state and county laws?” he asked. “Why aren’t other people doing things that need to be done?”
He said, “In lieu of having a town ordinance, we can utilize the building inspector we already have.”
(He referred to the county building inspectors already in place through the plan commission.)
Committee member Maurice Roby, who owns more than one piece of property in town, said the town hasn’t done its part by mowing along town alleys, and he questioned whether the town would do so if townspeople, including himself, took care of their own problems.
“Let’s straighten up our own back yard first,” Smyrichinsky said.
(No town trustees were present, nor had they planned to be at this gathering; the town expects a report at its town board meeting in March.)
Roby said the town also needs to take care of several other problems, like providing ample parking space for the Laconia Days festival. “Little things need to be addressed,” he said. “We have problems with people parking on private property on Laconia Days.”
Smyrichinsky said while the ordinances may be needed, it would appear the present format is “a bit much” for the town of about 40 residents, give or take a few.
He suggested asking a fire chief and county building inspector to jointly examine and rate buildings for safety. “Before we make any decisions, let’s take a look and see what condition these buildings are in, and see if we can get grants or aid to help” with the expense of repairs or demolition, Smyrichinsky said.
Roby said “the biggest thing” to remember is the children, who are apt to get inside an unsafe building and get hurt.
Questions that have surfaced regarding the need for a town election were also discussed.
“If somebody is pushing for an election, they ought to step forward” to seek office, Smyrichinsky said. “We don’t have a lot of volunteers.”

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