October 6, 2022

Potential new senior housing development in Ashland faces big hurdle | Local Business News

8 min read
Potential new senior housing development in Ashland faces big hurdle | Local Business News

ASHLAND — A developer is looking at property southeast of Ashland to build a neighborhood aimed at attracting “active retirees.” The development would include up to 60 houses, situated on about 20 acres of land just outside the Iron Horse subdivision. 

But to move forward with the development project, the issue of an Ashland landmark must be dealt with. Near the center of the proposed development is the 150-year-old Israel Beetison House, which is cherished locally for its Italianate architecture and limestone exterior. 

Popular perception is that when Boyer Young — Iron Horse’s developer — broke ground on the subdivision in the late 1990s, there was an agreement that the developer would maintain the Beetison House. But the house has deteriorated substantially in the past two decades and would cost at least $1 million to restore, according to Historic Resources Group and structural engineering firm RO Youker, who were hired by the new group to conduct an assessment. 

Their findings pose a question: Is the Beetison House — in its present condition — worth saving? 

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In a public meeting attended by more than 100 people on March 29, photos shared of the Beetison House showed graffiti lining the interior walls, sunlight shining through the roof on the second floor, deteriorating basement framing, holes in floors, broken windows and decaying limestone on the exterior.

Officials who assessed the Beetison House estimated it would cost at least $1 million to restore.

“There is really virtually no physical integrity left on the interior,” said Melissa Gengler said of Historic Resources Group. “The years of exposure to water infiltration has deteriorated almost all of the interior physical features.

“For the most part, all of the material that’s in the building is not salvageable.”

To restore the house, Gengler said a “total renovation” would be required. Mike Eisenbarth of RO Youker made a number of immediate repair recommendations to maintain the building’s current condition, including replacing the roofing, strengthening damaged wood framing, rebuilding the exterior masonry arches over the windows and installing caps over the chimneys, which have allowed additional moisture into the house.

Gengler said that the total cost would be “roughly” $1 million, but she said that number is likely on the low end. Bruce Wischmann, an Ashland City Council member and general contractor, estimated that the total could go up to $3 million.

“It depends on how historically accurate they want to be,” Wischmann said. 

Gengler presented a handful of options the city and developer could take in determining the Beetison House’s fate. She said the building could be demolished and the lot could be incorporated into the planned development, or a central “clubhouse” could be built using design characteristics or salvaged materials from the Beetison House.

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Another option would be to rehabilitate the building and find a new use, but it was noted that such a use would ideally produce revenue to support future upkeep.

Following the presentation, Gengler and Eisenbarth fielded questions from attendees, many of whom wondered why the building had not been maintained. 

Wischmann said there was technically no contractual obligation for Iron Horse developer Boyer Young to maintain the property. A provision in the subdivision agreement from 1999 states that the developer may “not demolish, move or sell” the Beetison House without approval. 

“So, there’s nothing that says in there that if a window gets broken out, they have to replace a window,” Wischmann said. 

Epcon Communities, which builds homes targeted to the 55-plus community, hasn’t yet completed the purchase of the approximately 20 acres on Iron Horse’s south end still owned by Boyer Young.  

Peter Katt, a longtime development attorney from Lincoln who is a partner in Epcon, said the location between Omaha and Lincoln and the setting “is absolutely gorgeous.”

But he knows about the Beetison House’s history in Ashland and the community’s attachment to the building.

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“I can’t do anything until I own (the land), a lender won’t let me buy it until I have city approval for my project, and I don’t think I’m going to be able to convince elected officials to approve my project without a very solid plan on what to do with the home,” Katt said. 

The March 29 meeting was a first step, he said, in reaching a decision on the Beetison House’s future. He said to come to a definitive decision could take up to nine months.

Patti Schofield, a member of the Ashland Historical Society, emphasized the importance of the Beetison House and the need to preserve it. 

“This town is a historic town, and we have to keep those things that are part of our history,” she said. “That building is a big part of what our community has always related to historically.”

Moving the house to a new site was mentioned, but Ryan Reed of the Nebraska State Historic Preservation Office said doing so would remove the home from the National Register of Historic Places. Without that historic designation, the property would no longer be eligible for tax credits. 

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