The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 3, 2013

Neighbors in Sunset Ridge subdivision seek city’s help in cleaning up housing lots damaged by 2011 tornado

By Debby Woodin
Globe Staff Writer

JOPLIN, Mo. — Stephen Menke knows firsthand the toll that Joplin’s 2011 tornado took.

He and his family were on their way home when it hit. They pulled into a neighbor’s driveway three houses away from theirs to wait it out in their car.

That car was destroyed along with many of the houses nearby, including the Menkes’. It also wiped out Menke’s dental office on Range Line Road.

But Menke regards himself as lucky. His family was unharmed, and his house at 3401 Sunset Drive was repaired in six months. He also has a new office now.

But he and some of his neighbors in the Sunset Ridge subdivision want the city to help them take care of what they consider dangerous structures still left in the neighborhood. They say property owners should have been able to fix some of the problems or at least clean them up by now, more than 20 months after the tornado.

Menke and several other Sunset Ridge residents have asked to speak to the Joplin City Council tonight about the issue.

Menke and neighbors Dan McCreary, 3131 Sunset Drive, and Bryan Jones, 3415 Sunset Drive, met Friday to discuss the status of their neighborhood near 32nd Street and Schifferdecker Avenue. Several city representatives also met with them.

‘Help them help us’

“We have a list of unrepaired properties,” Menke said. “We’re not mad at the city. We need their help in getting them cleaned up, and we wanted to know how we could help them help us.”

There are 75 lots in the subdivision; 55 of the homes were damaged or destroyed. Nine structures that the neighbors consider to be problems remain, and they are owned by investors, McCreary said.

Residents and visitors are greeted at the Schifferdecker Avenue entrance to the subdivision by two lots where concrete foundations remain, even though storm victims elsewhere have been required to remove them.

David Hertzberg, the city’s public works director who met with the residents Friday, told them that those two properties are in limbo because the city is negotiating to buy some of the land for the widening of Schifferdecker Avenue.

Two other properties that concern some of the neighborhood’s residents are owned by building contractor Alden Hawke.

“We’re probably part of the reason there’s an issue, and it is probably miscommunication with the neighbors,” Hawke said. “I’ve been meeting with the city concerning our plans to rebuild, but it hasn’t been communicated with the neighbors.”

Hawke said he is preserving one lot with a basement, and a second lot with a foundation and a swimming pool because they can be reused, saving on future rebuilding costs.

Leslie Jones, the city’s finance director who has been heading the city’s efforts to deal with property issues, told the residents on Friday that they should call the city and report the properties they believe are not in compliance with cleanup requirements. She said the city can then determine if the property has been referred for action by the Building Board of Appeals. That board has been trying to work with property owners, but it can order demolition if it does not get results from the owners voluntarily.

“Make sure we’re aware of it, and we’ll see if it’s before the building board. Then we have to let the process work,” even though it can take time, Jones said.

Addressing council

Five residents of Sunset Ridge have asked to speak to the Joplin City Council at its meeting at 6 p.m. today at City Hall, 602 S. Main St.