2012-04-19 / Local News

Demolition of Cleveland Twp. home ends long battle

By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

Neighbors in Scenic Mountainview Estates subdivision in Cleveland Township gathered in front of 1840 E. Ridgecliff Trail last week to watch the demolition of a structure and celebrate the end of what some have called a 16-year nightmare.

The demolition of the structure and cleanup of the lot, now owned by the township, began last week. Robert Steven Saffell began building a fourstory structure on the residential lot in 1995. It was never completed.

“There’s just no question that property values in our neighborhood have been severely affected by this situation,” said neighbor Tom Sutter, who has lived nearby since 1990.

Dan Klimaszewski moved into the neighborhood in 1996 – just as Saffell was beginning his homebuilding project. The eyesore has been within view of Klimaszewski’s house ever since he’s lived there.

“I saw them take Saffell away in handcuffs the first time he was charged back in 1998,” Klimaszewski said. “I do kind of feel sorry for the guy — but we’ve all had enough of this, and he’s had way more time than he needed to do the right thing.”


KAL EXCAVATING of Omena, above, began demolition of the former Saffell residence last week in the Scenic Mountainview Estates subdivision in Cleveland Township. On left, Nathan Kalcik maneuvers his excavator toward the home. KAL EXCAVATING of Omena, above, began demolition of the former Saffell residence last week in the Scenic Mountainview Estates subdivision in Cleveland Township. On left, Nathan Kalcik maneuvers his excavator toward the home. Saffell was tried and convicted in Circuit Court of violating the state Construction Code — but he simply paid the fine and continued with his old ways. He was cited repeatedly for violating the township’s junk and nuisance ordinances with no effect. He even claimed a “homestead” tax exemption on the property, which he occasionally occupied for months at a time without benefit of an occupancy permit.

Saffell also built a swimming pool in the back yard which, at one time, was used to store a full size motorboat. He built a massive wall of rubber tires around his property, with piles of junk and used building materials stacked all around. When the township took ownership of the property, they found 34 feral cats living there, but only four of them needed to be put down.

Cleveland Township took ownership of the former Saffell property in August 2011 after reaching a court settlement last year, setting a series of deadlines for Saffell to clean up his property and complete his project. Saffell failed to meet the deadlines he had agreed to, however.

Leelanau County joined in the township’s court action against Saffell because of the county’s obligation to enforce the state Construction Code.

Cleveland Township supervisor Tim Stein said the township had spent about $25,000 of taxpayer money to deal with the problem, including legal fees, paying off Saffell’s overdue property tax bills, and covering the cost of demolition. Stein said the township plans to sell the lot once it is cleaned up, return it to tax rolls, and hopefully recoup all of the township’s expenses.

Stein said he thought the residential lot, with a well, septic system and utilities in place, might fetch $30,000.

“Getting into the real estate business is the last thing Cleveland Township wanted to do,” Stein said. “But we listened to local residents who petitioned the township to take the actions we took and, at long last, this nightmare is ending.”

Stein said he was especially grateful for the support of Leelanau County Construction Code Authority building official Glen Dempsey who succeeded in enforcing the code when earlier code authority officials failed.

“You’ve got to give Tim Stein a lot of credit for this,” said Sutter, as he watched Nathan Kalchik of KAL Excavating take a swipe at Saffell’s old structure with an excavator. “Tim’s the one who got the county to act, finally, and really took charge of this problem.”

“That’s right,” added Klimaszewski. “A lot of people don’t like it when government steps in and does things like this — but we’re glad this is happening even if it took far too long.”

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