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City eyes homes near Potts Ditch

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GREENFIELD — Greenfield city officials are considering buying and demolishing five homes along Fourth Street to make way for the Potts Ditch relocation project this summer.

The homes – built in a floodway near downtown Greenfield and affected regularly by flooding along the ditch – could cost as much as $300,000 total to buy. The city also would have to pay to raze them.

While city engineer Karla Vincent says the purchases could make the ditch project go more smoothly, the Greenfield Board of Works Tuesday was hesitant about the idea and put a decision on hold.

“I’m concerned about taking on five more homes we’d be responsible to demolish,” said member Kathy Locke.

Locke and the other four works board members had questions on the acquisitions, ranging from how much it would cost to destroy the properties, to how it could benefit the ditch-relocation project, to what to do with the properties when the project is completed.

The properties are located just west of State Street, at 20, 34, 35, 37 and 106 W. Fourth St.

Potts Ditch is a watershed that runs north and south through the entire city, becoming an underground tunnel once it reaches the downtown area.

Because the tunnel is undersized for the amount of water that it handles during heavy rainfall, city officials have been debating for decades whether to reroute the ditch.

Last year, officials signed off on a $10 million relocation project, part of which is being paid with increased rates from Greenfield Utilities customers.

The project will be put out to bid by the end of April. Vincent said the city doesn’t necessarily have to buy the homes along Fourth Street, but doing so could make the relocation project run more smoothly. It could also lead to lower construction bids.

Three of the properties are adjacent to where a 6-foot by 14-foot concrete box will be placed; and having the room to maneuver construction equipment could mean lower bids overall. Utility director Mike Fruth added that one of the homes could be transformed into an office for the contractor, which could also mean a lower overall bid on the project.

But until bids are solicited later this spring, Fruth added, it’s hard to tell how much money could be saved in construction costs if the homes are razed.

“It could be at least into the tens of thousands of dollars (in construction savings),” Fruth said. “(Homeowners) are interested in getting out of a bad situation, and we’re interested in getting this project started.”

The city had an appraiser value each home; those appraisals were given to the board but not made public. Vincent and Fruth said they are confidential for now because no offers have yet been made to landowners.

According to the Hancock County Assessor’s website, the homes – a mix of rental and owner-occupied properties – have an assessed value ranging from $37,000 to $83,600.

All five of the properties are located in a floodway and were flooded during December’s heavy rain. But Vincent said homeowners are unable to make renovations to their properties. To get a building permit from the city of Greenfield, she said, they would have to get permission from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources because they’re in a floodway. The DNR would likely tell the landowners their homes need to be raised above the flood level, which could be more costly than what the home is worth, Vincent said.

Even after the Potts Ditch relocation project is complete, Vincent added, there’s no guarantee their homes would never flood again.

Though no monetary offers have been made yet on the homes, Vincent and Fruth said they’ve talked with the homeowners, who seem interested in hearing an offer.

Eminent domain will probably not play into the land acquisition along Fourth Street. Acquiring land from property owners in the recent past has proved difficult for local agencies. As landowners dispute offers made by municipalities, it has caused long delays in projects.

Vincent said in this case, if landowners turn down the city’s offer, the city will probably not go through an eminent domain process to obtain the homes because the properties are not required to make the project move forward.

The city had planned on spending up to $300,000 of the $10 million project estimate on land acquisition. Vincent said the city might also want to obtain property at 218 N. State St., but an appraisal has not been made on that property yet.

The board asked Vincent to come back with more details, in particular how much it could cost to demolish each building.

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