Briarwood not budging on buyouts

BRIARWOOD, N.D. --- Donavon Mau paid $7,000 for a flood buyout home in this secluded city just south of Fargo, hoping to move it to Hillsboro to give his wife and four children more living space.

BRIARWOOD, N.D. --- Donavon Mau paid $7,000 for a flood buyout home in this secluded city just south of Fargo, hoping to move it to Hillsboro to give his wife and four children more living space.

But five days after Cass County's buyout auction, a phone call informed him Briarwood wouldn't grant a permit to move the house because of the potential damage to trees and roads.

In fact, if Briarwood Mayor John Adams stays true to his word, the three buyout homes purchased by people intending to move them will never rise from their foundations.

"I just think it's a shame to have those houses destroyed because a couple of trees can't be trimmed," Mau said. "If we would have known prior to the auction that they couldn't be moved, I know I wouldn't have bid on it."

Adams said officials in charge of the auction were aware the city wasn't going to issue permits.


"I don't know why they were surprised," he said.

Moving houses is banned in Briarwood by city ordinance. City leaders passed the law after the removal of a 1997 flood buyout home tore up the city's lone road and knocked out trees and mailboxes.

Adams said the $41,000 the county received at auction for the three homes isn't worth the potential damage from moving them.

"It just seems silly that they would have done this and put them into a position where people think that the county screwed them and Briarwood's a bunch of (expletive deleted) by not letting them do it," he said.

The county's buyout committee plans to meet Thursday to discuss the situation in Briarwood, as well as in Oxbow, which also is dealing with buyers who want to move homes that would take out trees.

County Engineer Keith Berndt said it "isn't looking real good" that the Briarwood homes will be moved, which would force the county to refund 90 percent of the auction proceeds and pay extra to demolish the homes.

"If these property owners aren't allowed to move their homes out, and they were of the impression they could, I feel the county will have an obligation to give them back their money," he said.

The buyers aren't ready to give up yet.


Barry Olander of Fargo, who paid $10,500 for the six-bedroom home at 17 Briarwood Place next to Mau's, would lose $1,050 under a refund. He said he's working with Berndt and Lake Agassiz Regional Council Executive Director Irv Rustad to negotiate the move from Briarwood.

"The issue is not dead," he said.

Movers made aware

The three homes were among 35 flood-prone homes the county brought after the 2009 flood to have them demolished or moved out of harm's way.

A May 27 auction fetched $326,250 to help the county recoup some of the nearly $9 million in taxpayer dollars spent on the buyouts. A fourth home was auctioned off in Briarwood, but buyer Ron Barstad of Fargo said he bought it for salvage and won't try to move it.

Berndt, the county engineer, said Briarwood officials indicated before the auction that they wouldn't issue moving permits. But he said they agreed that if bidders paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the homes, the city would "consider something" to allow them to be moved.

Adams said it "seems crazy" that county officials would think the homes would fetch big bucks, given their flood histories.

That's why the county decided to offer buyers a 90 percent refund if they couldn't secure permits to move the homes, said Rustad, of the Lake Agassiz Regional Council, which handled the buyout process for the county.


The auction guide provided by Steffes Auctioneers included a list of house movers. Bidders were encouraged to contact them to find out if the homes could be relocated.

When it became apparent that some cities and subdivisions wouldn't allow certain homes to be moved, Rustad sent a letter May 20 to the movers, giving them a list of officials to contact about permits. The list also was sent to Steffes to post on its Web site.

"The movers were well aware of what was going on, every one of them," Rustad said.

'Not going to give in'

One of them was Tim Thein, who owns a house moving company in Clara City, Minn. He bought the one-story brick rambler at 19 Briarwood Place for $23,500 and planned to move it to Clara City for his family of five.

Thein said he assumed the home could be moved because the permit contact list distributed before the auction had this handwritten note at the bottom: "Briarwood -- only 2 homes that can be moved are #17 #19."

Geri Paul of Steffes Auctioneers said she wrote the note at the bottom of the list at the direction of Rustad, who said those were the two homes that, based on talks with Briarwood officials, had the potential to be moved.

Thein, who has already gutted the basement in preparation to move the home, declined further comment.


Mau said he talked to every mover on the list but didn't call Adams about getting a permit.

"I just assumed that that (contact information) was put in there so that we knew who to call when it came time to get the moving permit," he said.

Olander said he also had no contact with city officials.

In fact, Adams said he received calls from only one prospective buyer before the sale and one mover afterward.

Auctioneer Scott Steffes advised bidders several times during the auction about the permit and refund situation.

Berndt said the county has looked at the feasibility of moving the houses out of Briarwood across private property. But that would require cutting down trees, and under Briarwood city ordinance, city leaders must approve the removal of trees within city limits -- which Adams indicated isn't likely to happen.

Berndt said he's in favor of saving trees, but he also noted that from an environmental standpoint, it takes a lot more trees to build a new house than to relocate one.

"As a city, I guess that's their prerogative, and we'll certainly respect whatever position the city of Briarwood takes," he said.


Adams' position is clear, despite what he said are buyers who have "just been adamant" that the city can't stop them from moving the homes.

"We're not going to give in," he said. "And if these guys want to go to court, I guess we'll end up in court."

Mike Nowatzki is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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