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Vacant home on business loop torn down

Police: For years, old Nelson house had been ravaged by squatters

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - The younger Dan Nelson of Scappoose uses a track hoe to tear down the decaying remains of his grandparents' home, which had been vacant since 2005, off Gable Road in St. Helens on Friday, April 10.A small, dilapidated house that had been sitting vacant for about 10 years on Gable Road east of Highway 30 has finally been torn down.

Dan Nelson said the house had been empty since his mother Leola died in 2005. After that, he said, the vacant building was wrecked by transients. Even before it was torn down last week, much of its roof was missing and the perimeter of the house was strewn with debris.

The building sits on a lot that stretches along the north side of Gable Road, which Nelson said is some 6.5 acres in size. The lot is for sale.

Nelson said he decided it was time to tear down the building, which was past its useful life.

“We’d like to have done it sooner, but when you’ve got money problems like that, it’s difficult,” he said.

St. Helens Police Chief Terry Moss said the house was often used by squatters. Homeless camps have sprung up in that area north of Gable Road, he said, concealed for most of the year from the road by foliage.

“That whole strip on Gable Road has just become, over the years, a popular place for camps — and that house was part of that,” he said.

He said the building was a “nuisance eyesore” on the road.

“It’s gone through a lot of abuses over the years. I think there have been fires in it. There has been stuff stripped out of it and broken,” Moss said, adding, “That house has been vacant and an issue for several years. Anybody that drives on Gable Road has probably commented on that house and said, ‘Why don’t they tear that down?’”

Nelson looked on from a lawn chair Friday, April 10, as his son, also named Dan, tore down the house with a track hoe and deposited debris into a green dumpster. He said the family decided to do the job themselves after concluding it would be cheaper than paying an outside company to do it. Even still, he estimated Friday the teardown would cost him close to $14,000, all told.

“It costs more to tear it down than it did to build it,” he said, chuckling. “But that’s the way life is. It’s one of those things.”

The house was built in 1948, Nelson said, back before the road was paved and shopping centers sprung up nearby. He helped his mother and father out as the house was built, cutting and sawing and hauling away waste to the dump.

Now, the stretch of Gable Road that the house faced is part of a business loop off of Highway 30 — a corridor that links St. Helens’ downtown Riverfront District with the highway and also includes Columbia Boulevard and St. Helens Street through the commercial Houlton District.

Jacob Graichen, city planner for St. Helens, said the city actually has no jurisdiction over the area for code enforcement, although it has heard from citizens in the past who were unhappy about the ruined house.

“It’s not inside city limits,” Graichen said. “We have received complaints here and there over the years, but it is in the county.”

The Nelson property is included within a small enclave of unincorporated Columbia County land inside the city boundaries, southwest of the Columbia County Jail.

Moss linked the house’s decay to social and economic problems elsewhere in the city.

“It’s unfortunate,” Moss said. “But it’s part of the issues that we have with vacant properties and homeless and vagrancy.”

For his part, Nelson was philosophical about his old home’s demise.

“We built it here and lived in it and grew up with it, and now it’s time for it to go,” he said. “Just the cycle of life.”