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Owner of burned building has five days to decide

Former residents allowed to enter apartments after fire to retrieve personal items

Posted: November 8, 2012 - 1:08am
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James Barrett, owner of the Gastineau Apartments, looks at damage inside the front entrance of the Franklin Street building on Wednesday.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
James Barrett, owner of the Gastineau Apartments, looks at damage inside the front entrance of the Franklin Street building on Wednesday.

The owner of the burned Gastineau Apartments has five days to tell the city whether he wants to repair the building or demolish it.

James Barrett, 38, who has owned the building alongside his mother for the past seven or eight years, says it’s too early to tell which way he’s leaning.

“We are way, way too premature for that,” Barrett said in an interview Wednesday. “I have no idea.”

A fire engulfed the top floor of the South Franklin Street apartment complex Monday evening, and city officials essentially condemned it the next day.

No casualties were reported, and fire officials say the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

The City and Borough of Juneau provided Barrett with a timeline on how to proceed now that the city’s building codes officials have deemed the building a ‘dangerous structure’.

Barrett has five days to advise the city of his plans for the building; 30 days to secure all necessary permits; and 60 days to get either the repair or demolition work underway.

The seemingly austere timeline does have some wiggle room in it, Barrett noted, and the city has been helpful in its guidelines.

Barrett says he hasn’t had the time to consider his options yet since his attention right now is primarily on his tenants as he tries to organize times they can reenter the building to retrieve their personal belongings.

Each tenant has to be individually escorted into the building since the city officials deemed it unsafe. The fire department released the building back to Barrett on Tuesday after their scene investigation was complete. That means Barrett is responsible for keeping the building secure and preventing access to the public.

A handful of residents were allowed back into the building on Wednesday to survey the damage in their apartments and grab what was salvageable. No one was allowed back on the top fourth floor, where the fire originated and where the roof had collapsed in on itself.

Residents will likely be retrieving things from their apartments for the remainder of the week.

The apartment complex has 42 or 43 units, almost all of which were full at the time of the fire, Barrett said.

The building also houses two commercial businesses on its ground floor: a boutique and skateboard shop. A nail salon was also located there until this summer.

 

‘Dangerous structure’

City and Borough of Juneau Building Codes Official Charlie Ford said he and the chief building inspector posted the Gastineau Apartments building as a ‘dangerous structure’ at about 1 p.m. Tuesday.

“What that means is no one is permitted to go in there without meeting certain requirements, so it’s mostly to protect the public and keep people out of there because it is a hazardous situation,” Ford said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Ford added that technically, the city prefers not to use the word ‘condemn’ because most people assume that means the building will be torn down when that’s not always the case.

“Everybody has a kind of different definition of condemned,” Ford said. “But most people think when something is condemned, it has to be torn down, and I guess our definition of condemned is it has to be renovated or repaired to a point where it’s safe to enter again.”

Ford said most the damage to the solid concrete building was confined to the fourth floor, but the entire building was posted as a ‘dangerous structure’ as a safety measure and also to secure the building from potential looters.

Gastineau Apartments, located in the heart of the downtown historic area, was built in 1917.

According to the City and Borough of Juneau’s Finance Department Assessor’s Database, it had a site value of $810,200. The building property value was listed as $1,000,700, and the total property value was listed as $1,810,900, according to the database.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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