The condition of the 1865 Owen Keegan house has been brought to the attention of the city at 455 Huener Lane in Jacksonville. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Jacksonville may take action to preserve old house

JACKSONVILLE — Reports that a house built in 1865 has fallen into a state of disrepair have prompted the city to consider taking action to force the owners to make repairs.

The condition of the 1865 Owen Keegan house has been brought to the attention of the city as a possible violation of codes related to historical properties. The house is at 455 Huener Lane, across from Bigham Knoll and the historic Jacksonville School.

"A few people noticed that the house is falling under disrepair," said Amy Stevenson, city planning director and historic preservation officer.

Historic and Architectural Review Commission members are scheduled to discuss the matter when they meet at Old City Hall, 205 W Main Street at 6 tonight. They will look at provisions under the planning codes that deal with historical structures on the city's landmark list.

"HARC is simply going to talk about that building and should they start that process or not," said Stevenson.

The city can demand that the property owner make appropriate repairs and if that doesn't happen, the city could make the repairs itself and place a tax lien against the property to recoup its expenses.

Provisions in the city's code make it the duty of an owner or manager to maintain a designated historical structure to prevent degradation of its integrity or historical character.

Originally set for October's HARC meeting, the item was moved to this month because of a full agenda. Stevenson said that a similarly busy agenda this month may delay it again.

Owen Keegan was bailiff and jailer at the county jail for 20 years during the 1800s. County records show the two-story house totals more than 2,000 square feet. The 1880 Chris Keegan house on B Street is also on the landmark list. Chris was Owen's son.

City Administrator Jeff Alvis said he'd been informed that tree branches are growing through a porch on the back of the house.

Derek Wolfe and Molly McPherson of Coupeville, Wash., are listed as owners of the house on Jackson County tax records. The records show that it has an real market value of $200,870 and that it sold in October, 2005 for $425,000. A call to Molly McPherson seeking comment was not returned.

Before city officials could begin repairs on their own, a lengthy process would have to be undertaken, beginning with a determination to invoke a "demolition by neglect" process. The phrase "demolition by neglect" refers to the property owner's failure to keep the structure from falling into disrepair.

After a citizen makes a written complaint of neglect, and loss or damage appears possible, the city building inspector will conduct an investigation. The inspector must obtain permission for the inspection from the owner.

A notice prepared by the inspector after review may include a time frame for minimum maintenance or work to prevent loss of the structure. The notice requires corrective actions to begin within 30 days It also allows the owners a hearing before HARC if they disagree with the inspector's findings.

HARC then has a variety of options, ranging from no action to preparation of plans to effect repairs within 90 days. Two 90-day extensions may be sought.

If work is not completed by the property owner within the prescribed time frames the city may have the work completed with costs attached to the property as a tax lien.

The code also allows owners to claim financial hardship. Property tax relief may be allowed if financial hardship is determined. Other relief can include grants, loans or relaxation of code provisions.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at

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