City works to get drug house rehabbed

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published July 11, 2013

 City officials told a couple of concerned residents at a recent meeting that they understand the residents’ frustration about a boarded up home on Lennon.

City officials told a couple of concerned residents at a recent meeting that they understand the residents’ frustration about a boarded up home on Lennon.

Photo by April Lehmbeck

HARPER WOODS — A nice brick home with pretty yellow flowers lining part of its front sits in a nice, well-kept neighborhood and would make a beautiful home for a new family, if it weren’t for one major issue.

The inside of the home has been deemed a hazardous site due to an illegal chemical drug operation that police shut down last spring.

A couple of residents came to the July 8 City Council meeting to express their concerns about the boarded up home and ask what happened that led to all the law enforcement activity and boarding up of the home.

“Every window in that house is boarded up,” neighbor Joan Wright said during the meeting.

She said she saw law enforcement officials out there a couple of times and asked them what was going on, but she wasn’t able to get information.

City Manager Randolph Skotarczyk answered her questions, saying that there had been four arrests.

“They were manufacturing a hazardous substance in that house,” he said.

Public Safety Director James Burke said that they arrested four local teens last spring who allegedly had broken into the vacant home and were using chemicals to create a special kind of narcotic.

Police called the hazardous materials unit (HAZMAT) and then the Drug Enforcement Administration.

He said they were manufacturing a dangerous substance that includes the bark of a South African tree.

“It’s very volatile and explosive and hazardous to human health,” Burke said.

Officials reportedly were advised to board up the house for safety, which they did. 

He explained that the problem they’ve had since it was boarded up is that they couldn’t nail down who owned the property, since it was vacant. Vacant homes are frequently traded between banks and the owner can be difficult to pin down, city officials said.

“I realize people are very unhappy that it is boarded up,” Skotarczyk said. “We have been working on it.”

He said they are working to make sure it gets taken care of sooner rather than later, so that it isn’t “tied up in court” and gets “rectified by the owner.”

“I share your frustration,” Skotarczyk said. “I’m sorry about the problem. The boarding was for the safety of the public.”

The city recently discovered who owns the property — a major bank — and the city is working with the bank to get the problem taken care of.  He mentioned testing that is necessary in the home.

The good news is the house might once again become a nice home for a new family because it looks like it won’t need to be torn down.

“It’s a nice house. It’s in good shape,” Burke said.

The city was initially told it would need to be condemned, but recently they’ve been informed that it may be able to be cleaned up on the inside and made perfectly safe, he said.

The city is hoping that, within the next couple of weeks, they can work to get that property abated so that the boards can come off, Burke said.

Burke credited the police work of officer John Biernat, who recognized the dangerous substances and narcotic nature of what was in that home.

“He did just an extraordinary job,” Burke said.

The four teens have not yet been charged because police are waiting for the state’s police lab to get back to them on the exact narcotic used. However, if charged, they could face seven-year felonies.

“It’s such a new phenomenon, a new drug,” Burke said.

“We do understand the neighbors’ frustration,” he added.