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Minneapolis eases demolition permit rules

Many business owners were unable to clear rubble because of tax requirement on properties destroyed in riots after George Floyd's death

MINNEAPOLIS — Mayor Jacob Frey has decided to clear some of the hurdles business owners must jump through to clear rubble from their riot-damaged properties.

At Frey's direction, the city will grant demolition permits whether or not a full year's property taxes have been paid, and waive the fees normally charged for those permits.

"The City of Minneapolis will issue wrecking permits and waive demolition fees for any properties damaged during the civil unrest, irrespective of whether taxes have been paid," Frey said in a statement provided to KARE. "We’ll continue working with our County partners and will advocate for state law changes to provide relief for property owners as well."

Don Blyly is one of those business owners who's been stuck in limbo, waiting to get a demo permit for his two bookstores on Chicago Avenue that were destroyed by fires set by rioters. 

"When I got here someone had broken every window and thrown accelerants inside. Fire was shooting out of the front of the store, and the flames were just too hot for me to deal with," Blyly recalled of that night back in late May.

His Uncle Hugo's Science Fiction Bookstore and Uncle Edgar Mystery Bookstore, which have been at that location for 35 years, have been reduced to piles of rubble and charred books. Blyly said the destroyed books were $1 million, let alone his building, computer systems and financial records.

"I'm trying to decide whether to rebuild here, but I won't be able to make that decision until the rubble is removed and I can see what shape the foundation and floor slabs are in," Blyly explained.

He said his demolition contractor was flatly told by Minneapolis city staff the permit couldn't be issued until property taxes were paid.

"My contractor tells me even in the best of times they almost never issued a permit in less than 30 days. I went ahead and paid the tax early, to try to speed up getting the demolition permit."

Of course, the trouble is that property tax bill is based on what Blyly's property was worth before the riots. The city staff is currently trying to do new property assessments on more than 800 properties that were damaged or destroyed in by arsonists and looters.

"A burned down building isn't worth anything! It's going to cost my probably $100,000 just to have the debris hauled away," Blyly remarked.

RELATED: Lawmakers look to revive riot-ravaged businesses

State law requires a full year's property taxes to be paid before any structure can be demolished. And, traditionally, the city staff has been required to check with Hennepin County officials to verify that property taxes have been paid before a demolition permit is filed.

Until recently, city staff were under the impression that Hennepin County wouldn't sign off on any demolition permits unless taxes were paid in full. City Council Member Andrew Johnson said it was clear to him from correspondence between city and county staff that Hennepin County wouldn't budge on the tax issue.

But county officials this week said it wasn't their intention to hold up businesses trying to clear the ruins of buildings. They say the city always had the option of acting in the best interest of those hit by rioters.

Hennepin County has asked the Minnesota Legislature to change that law, to allow for emergency circumstances such as the widespread destruction of commercial properties in the civil unrest that followed George Floyd's death in police custody on Memorial day.

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