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The city of Davenport is moving to condemn a severely dilapidated, but historically and architecturally significant house, in Davenport's historic Gold Coast neighborhood in hopes of saving the property.

The locally landmarked home at 510 W. 6th St. is owned by Gordon Muller who was an "urban pioneer" when he moved into the neighborhood in the late 1970s.

In recent years, though, the property has deteriorated, causing the city's inspection services department to cite the home for deficiencies in 2009, to declare it unfit for occupancy in 2010, and to board it up and nail on temporary rolled roofing in late 2012.

The goal of condemnation is to take possession of the home, then enlist the help of a group called Friends of 510 that would secure the building and market it, said Alderman Bill Boom, in whose 3rd Ward the home is located.

This is the first time the city has moved to acquire an abandoned house through condemnation as a way of saving it, Boom said.

Other cities such as Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Dubuque have used the state law for this purpose, he said.

"This is a new frontier for all of us," Alderman Ray Ambrose, 4th Ward, said. "We have tried to reach out to him (Muller) on a friendly basis. We have offered city assistance."

But now a priority is to protect neighbors, he said.

History

The house was built about 1857 and is known as the Lambrite-Iles-Petersen house, for its significant owners. Petersen, for example, was the operator of the J.H.C Petersen and Sons store in Davenport, a predecessor of the Von Maur department store chain. The original Petersen building now houses the River Music Experience. 

The resolution to condemn, passed last week by the city council, is the latest move in a years-long saga.

Neighbors have been offering Muller help for years, as has the city.

On April 9, city representatives hand-delivered to Muller an offer to buy the house for $34,000, an amount arrived at during a recent external appraisal. (The appraiser was not allowed inside.)

The offer was not accepted. Muller declined comment for this story.

Next steps

Now the city's legal department will draft the application to condemn that will then be presented to Scott County District Court Judge Marlita Greve, Brian Heyer, assistant city attorney, said.

The judge will select a six-member commission of people with real estate and financial backgrounds to sit in on a compensation hearing. The city will present what it thinks the property is worth and Muller can present his side, Heyer explained.

The commission then will determine the fair market value of the property, and the amount would be deposited with the Scott County Sheriff's Department in Muller's name.

"It's hard to say" how long this process will take, Heyer said, but the hope is that it would be finished by the end of September so that the house could be further secured before winter. Although the house is boarded, holes in the soffits allow water and animals in.

The Friends of 510 is a project of the Gateway Redevelopment Group, a nonprofit whose goal is to save abandoned properties in the Gold Coast. The 510 project is headed by Gold Coast neighbor Mike Ryan. 

The Friends organization has collected $38,120 in pledges from 60 people and has outlined the steps it will take once it can access the house.

The group would restore utilities, submit a nomination to have the house individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places and hire a historic architect/conservator. The latter would evaluate the property and submit a report of what areas need to be addressed, with priorities and a complete inventory of assets.

Based on recommendations, the property would be made safe from further degradation. The group would develop criteria for restoration with estimated costs and potential sources of funding (being listed on the national register opens some funding sources) and would begin marketing the property.

While this is the first time the state law has been used to try to save a property, it may not be the last.

"We probably have 100 properties (that are abandoned)," Ambrose said. "We'll have to become more aggressive on behalf of neighbors."

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