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Home dispute after 10 years

Alita Hall holds a "historic site" plaque for 160 Holcomb Road, which she is working to restore. Photo by Mary Keck (click for larger version)

The house at 160 Holcomb Road has been known as “The Elf House.” Photos by Mary Keck (click for larger version)

Alita Hall looks at a portrait of her Aunt Phyllis, which she found in the house as she was cleaning it. (click for larger version)
June 20, 2012 - For the past 10 years, many have hoped 160 Holcomb Road would be a home again.

That may soon happen, according to the homeowner's niece.

"My goal within the next two months is to get [the house] empty and sell it," said Alita Hall, who has been in Clarkston since April.

So far, Hall has replaced shingles and removed damaged items. One room still has significant water damage, and she has hired professionals to clean and repair it.

"Would I be in there working if the conditions were horrid?" Hall asked. "There's nothing wrong with the solidity of the home."

Some aren't so sure.

Neighbor Rick Detkowski who has lived beside 160 Holcomb for five years, said the inside of the house looks like "the worst episode of Hoarders."

Dekowski helped move furniture from the house in early April.

"I'm sure it was a beautiful house at one time," he said, but when he went in he noticed, "fungus growing on the ceiling, a moldy smell, animal droppings, and knee-high garbage."

Over the years, Detkowski "watched raccoons and possums going in and out of the house and into the brush pile in the back of the yard."

From his perspective, the house is "a health hazard," and he'd "hate to see the house sold" without a thorough inspection by professionals.

Sam Moraco of MLC Building, Preservation, and Restoration Company described the inside of the home differently.

Moraco said it had "two roof leaks, one in the front and one in the back. Wet plaster has been removed, mold has been treated, and humidity in the home is at normal levels."

He was in the house about a week ago and didn't notice a smell nor did he see any animal damage.

In short, "there's no health hazard present," he said.

From Moraco's perspective, "within 30 days someone could have work done to restore the home and live there."

Clarkston City Manager Dennis Ritter would like inspectors to check the house, but Hall,who has power of attorney, has not permitted it.

"Our building inspectors are not allowed in that building unless they are asked to come in," Ritter said during the council's discussion of 160 Holcomb on May 14.

"If we have evidence, we can take it to the court magistrate, get an administrative warrant, and inspect the property," said Tom Ryan, the city's attorney. "We don't have to sit by and let this sit there and be a blight on the community."

Moraco said he hopes no one purchases the house to tear it down because 160 Holcomb, also known as "The Elf House," is "an architectural gem" with antique hardware including crystal and glass door knobs, leaded windows, solid wood doors, and hardwood floors.

Cara Catallo of Clarkston's Historic District Commission has a similar view about protecting homes that are over 50 years old in the community.

"It'd be nice to see it get some TLC," she said.

Dean Hixson, who currently resides in Waco, Texas, is the sole owner of the home since his wife, Phyllis, passed away in November of last year. The couple left Clarkston in April of 2002 intending to come back in six months, but health conditions prevented their return, Hall explained.

For 10 years, the house sat unoccupied, but not empty.

Hall's Aunt Phyllis loved shopping and collecting and stored her treasures in the house. They were wrapped in paper and placed in labeled boxes, said her niece.

When Phyllis became ill and didn't know if she would return to Clarkston, she took her niece aside and said, "Promise me you'll go through every pocket and every item."

Hall has been working hard to fulfill her promise since April because her Uncle Dean is recovering from a back injury in Waco and isn't able to travel to Clarkston. She hasn't minded unwrapping and sorting her aunt's collectables, however.

"Every 20 minutes it's Christmas because there are so many wonderful things," she said.

Not only has Hall come across boxes of brand new clothes and antiques, but she's also discovered drawings her late brother created as a child.

In addition to family artifacts, Hall has stumbled upon a brass plaque stating, "Historic Site, Clarkston Community Historical Society." Alita recalls her aunt's experience in getting the historic designation.

Phyllis and Dean Hixon argued with city officials for two years about getting the home identified as historic, Hall remembers. Once the Clarkston Historical Society recognized the home as "historic" in 1998, they asked the Hixons to pay a fee for a small brass fixture.

"It broke Aunt Phyllis's heart," Hall sadly revealed.

She believes her aunt never put up her plaque because "she was too mad" at how "mean and vicious" the city had been during the process.

To this day, the house is not a part of Clarkston's Historic District. The district lines were drawn at the rim of Mill Pond, which touches the Hixon's property. Toni Smith of the Clarkston Historical Society says brass plaques like the one Alita Hall found were sold for about $20 as part of a promotion, but "it's not something we continue to do."

The plaques don't represent a "hard and fast designation," and the Historical Society hasn't kept track of who received one, Smith said.

Although the plaque doesn't guarantee the three bedroom, one bathroom home is considered "historic" by the city's standards, it was built in 1927. Hall's real estate agent Siglenda Miotke said, "No one has done anything to degrade the historic qualities" of the home.

Getting the house recognized as historic wasn't the end of trouble between the Hixons and the city, Alita recalls. Her Uncle Dean hoped to build on to the garage in 1995, but the city wouldn't allow it. Hall's relationship with the city appears to be mimicking that of her Aunt and Uncle.

Ritter came by on June 6 to inform Alita she would receive a citation for a brush pile in her back yard. Hall has since put a "free wood" sign outside the house hoping someone who can use the wood will pick it up, but she feels the city has singled her out.

"I'm going as fast as I can," she said.

Although city officials may seek a warrant to see the inside of 160 Holcomb, Hall said, "The house is ours and paid for. I know my rights."

Clarkston News reporter
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