6/25/2019: Suhr House (copy)

On June 24, the city's Landmarks Commission found that the Suhr House, 121 Langdon St., is undergoing demolition by neglect. The property owner appealed the ruling July 3. 

After a city commission issued the first ever ruling of demolition by neglect, the property owner of a historic building on Langdon Street is filing an appeal. 

Demolition by neglect is the process of allowing landmarks, landmark sites or improvements in historic districts to decay, deteriorate, become structurally defective or fall into disrepair in any other way, according to the city's Historic Preservation Ordinance. 

For the first time, the Landmarks Commission issued this ruling June 24 in regard to the Suhr House at 121 Langdon St. Harold Langhammer, the owner of the property, filed an appeal Wednesday. 

David Sparer, an attorney acting on behalf of Langhammer, said in the notice of appeal that the Landmarks Commission made its decision with out-of-date information. 

“The then current, and now today current information, is that the owner is indeed actively engaged in correcting all the code violations,” Sparer said in the notice. “Workers are on the site addressing every issue.”

The building needs repairs to front, side and rear porches, tuckpointing of damaged masonry, and a new arched storm window. Sparer said the work should be completed by July 31, which he said would meet the city’s deadline. 

“Therefore the finding of demolition by neglect should not have been made, and also at this time is unnecessary and inappropriate, and should be reversed,” Sparer said. 

Kyle Bunnow, the city’s plan review and inspection supervisor, said in a June 3 memo that he believed the owner would be unable to complete work on the Suhr House in 2019. 

“It is the opinion of Building Inspection that the owner’s inaction to retain contractors and gain approvals to complete the required work makes compliance in 2019 highly unlikely,” Bunnow said. “Furthermore, it is the opinion of Building Inspection that 121 Langdon Street continues to undergo demolition via neglect and that the building is likely to further deteriorate before meaningful repairs can be made.”

To motivate Langhammer to make repairs to the deteriorating property, the city held a public hearing on a notice of demolition by neglect Sept. 17, 2018. The demolition by neglect finding is meant to pressure property owners to make repairs and keep buildings properly maintained. 

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Assistant City Attorney John Strange said the City Council will hold a public hearing. Alders could reverse or modify the Landmarks Commission ruling or refer the matter back to the commission. Any decision would require a two-thirds vote by the Council. 

Under the ordinance, the building inspector can proceed to repair a landmark, and the property owner would be responsible for the costs or as a special charge against the property.

The City Council can also authorize the city to acquire the property through condemnation proceedings. These would be actions made separately from any decisions on the appeal, Strange said. 

John Suhr, a German immigrant who moved to Madison with his wife Louisa from Germany, built the house in the French Victorian Style. Suhr worked for a Madison bank until 1871 when he established his own “German-American Bank” to serve many of the German immigrants in the area.

The house was designated as a landmark in 1974 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.