Harrison Twp., Dayton work to remove most glaring eyesores left from tornadoes

More than two years after the Memorial Day tornadoes, officials have stepped up efforts to remove two of the largest eyesores that continue to blot both sides of the Stillwater River at a primary crossing between Harrison Twp. and Dayton.

An abandoned five-unit condominium building on Lofty Oaks Lane still clings precariously to the west bank of the river in Harrison Twp.

“Not only is it an eyesore, it’s a lingering reminder of what happened two years ago,” said Kris McClintick, Harrison Twp. administrator. “(Removing) this is critical to help the community finalize healing and move on to the next phase and rebuilding.”

Across the river on the flats to the east, 22 apartment buildings remain in ruins on Foxton Court in Dayton.

According to the county engineer, about 28,000 vehicles cross the Shoup Mill Road bridge each day, passing by the inescapable sites left damaged by the most powerful tornado of the 2019 Memorial Day outbreak.

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Cleaning up so-called “zombie properties” has been long, tough and “tricky,” McClintick said.

FEMA reimbursed Dayton and Harrison Twp. for cleanup costs on streets and public property, but the assistance didn’t extend to damaged private properties that were abandoned.

But Harrison Twp. finally has funding to demolish the Lofty Oaks Lane condo building along with others through a $109,000 Community Development Block Grant approved by Montgomery County commissioners last month.

A vast majority of residential properties in Harrison Twp. have recovered, Merle Cyphers, the township’s services director, reported at a Miami Valley Long-term Recovery Operations Group meeting in June.

Of the 1,836 residential structures damaged in the township, no progress had been made on just 27, including the units on Lofty Oaks Lane, Cyphers said.

Tornado repair work has has been swifter than he imagined, Cyphers said.

“I didn’t expect us to be at this point in the recovery process at this time,” he said. “I was really thinking more along the lines of five years out as opposed to two. So I’m glad to see I was wrong about that.”

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On the 27 remaining properties, the township is struggling either to identify owners or get the owners to return communication, Cyphers said.

A team of Dayton housing inspectors swept the Foxton Court apartments in May to document each of the 22 buildings. The inspections started a nuisance abatement process with a long-term goal of getting the structures demolished, said Steven Gondol, deputy director of planning and community development for the city.

“If this all goes as well as we hope, there would be a pretty good contiguous piece of land that would go back to a natural setting right along Shoup Mill,” he said during the recovery group meeting.

Gondol said the buildings are in worse shape now than immediately after the tornado. What the tornado didn’t destroy, vandals have stripped from the buildings.

“There’s nothing left,” he said.

Before the EF4 tornado, the Foxton Court Apartments had approximately 140 units, primarily rented by households with low to moderate incomes, according to a letter Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine sent to former President Donald Trump in June 2019 requesting a federal disaster declaration for the state.

The city has sent the owner of the Foxton Court properties legal orders for each building and notified him regarding the steps to remedy the situation. Dayton’s housing, building, zoning and fire departments are working to coordinate a meeting with the owner to provide him options to abate the nuisance, according to a city spokeswoman.

The Foxton Court properties have changed hands since the tornado and are now owned by Julia Investments LLC, according to Montgomery County property records. Representatives for the company couldn’t be reached for comment.

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While Harrison Twp. now has the funding to remove the condominium building on Lofty Oaks Lane, it will not come down immediately, McClintick said.

“We’ve done some due diligence, but feel we need to do another public hearing on the dangerous property side, which is our mechanism to be able to tear down private property,” he said.

The Lofty Oaks Lane units were among a round of dangerous property hearings in October 2019. Each owner was notified by a posting on the property, and both certified and regular mail. Just one owner attended the hearing, according to meeting minutes.

Scott Jones, an owner of one of the units, said during the October 2019 hearing that the condo association was supposed to be carrying insurance on the building, but he later learned from the insurance company that the policy had been cancelled. Jones told trustees he had been paying another occupant the condo association fees each month.

The Lofty Oaks Lane units with the addresses 4000, 4002, 4004, 4006 and 4008 were all declared dangerous properties with unsecured structural damage by the Harrison Twp. trustees.

McClintick said the township has completed a new title search of each property and will hold a second hearing next month “just to make sure” before firing up bulldozers.

“Removing private property in Americas is a big deal. We don’t take that lightly,” he said. “We want to make sure that everybody who’s entitled to be notified is notified properly.”

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