City suit against Gastineau owners postponed to December

City and Borough of Juneau hopes to recoup money for demolition of decrepit buildings

The Gastineau Apartments in 2012. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire file)

The city’s lawsuit against owners of the Gastineau Apartments, which was scheduled to go to trial next month, has been postponed.

 

The City and Borough of Juneau had filed suit in March 2016 against Kathleen and James Barrett, both individually and on behalf of Gastineau Apartments LLC, to recover the cost of tearing down the blighted buildings. The South Franklin Street building sat vacant after a 2012 fire and continued to deteriorate, with vagrants reportedly causing a second fire in March 2015.

At a status conference in Juneau Superior Court Wednesday, Judge Philip Pallenberg rescheduled the trial to Dec. 18, citing scheduling conflicts in his own calendar as well as issues with some of the evidence that was to be released to the city.

In early April, city attorneys filed a motion asking the judge to compel the Barretts’ attorney, Robert Spitzfaden, to produce that discovery, noted Assistant Municipal Attorney Robert Palmer. Spitzfaden subsequently produced 400 pages in early May and then another 160 pages on Tuesday, Palmer said.

“We’re sifting through that,” Palmer added. “… I don’t know if (discovery) is complete, it looks like there is still some material missing.”

Specifically, Palmer said, the city still is seeking some bank records and insurance reports. If the Barretts don’t have those documents, the city will need time to subpoena the records from the bank and the insurance adjuster, he said.

“I’ve given them what I’ve got,” Spitzfaden told Pallenberg. “If the city thinks there’s something we didn’t give them, tell me and I’ll keep looking.”

After the trial was moved to mid-December, some new dates were also scheduled toward the end of July and early August, including a new deadline for discovery evidence and any motions that could dispose of the case entirely. A pre-trial conference was set for Dec. 1.

One issue that remains in dispute is who, exactly, will be responsible for repaying the city. In January, the Barretts argued unsuccessfully that they were not liable as individual defendants. Pallenberg ruled against their motion, so it remains a question that needs to be resolved.

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Fire gutted Gastineau more than four years ago

On Nov. 5, 2012, a towering blaze engulfed the Gastineau Apartments, a complex of three connected buildings at 127 South Franklin St., driving out the building’s residents and creating a scene visible from Douglas Island.

While the fire was confined primarily to the building closest to Franklin Street, water damage, squatters and neglect subsequently rendered all three of the connected apartment buildings unlivable.

James and Camilla Barrett had been resistant to the idea of demolition and stated they hoped to sell the building and land. James Barrett told the Empire in January 2015 that his progress had been delayed multiple times due to lengthy consultations on cost estimates and depleted insurance money, which he used to pay debts.

City officials and the Assembly grew increasingly insistent that action be taken, however; the complex’s decaying condition also prompted the closure of the small park in front of the complex.

In February 2015, representatives from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation inspected the premises to determine their interest in partnering with the city on an affordable housing project. AHFC concluded the Gastineau Apartments would need to be demolished, with the cost to raze the complex estimated at $1.2 million.

In March 2015, the complex caught fire a second time, prompting the Assembly to allocate $1.8 million from the West Juneau-Douglas Highway Access Study for the building’s demolition.

In April 2015, James Barrett showed up at an Assembly meeting for the first time since the building burned down in 2012.

The Barretts said they intended to demolish the structures themselves, but Mead said James Barrett had not provided the Assembly with concrete plans. Barrett maintained that he had always planned to reconstruct the complex and sell it to a private developer. He said most of the interested parties had been scared off by the city’s interest in acquiring the site and extensive media coverage.

In November 2015, the Assembly refused to postpone the demolition, which was completed in January 2016. CBJ then filed its suit. City Attorney Amy Mead said at the time, “We exercised our rights within the law to abate a public nuisance, and now we’re seeking to recover those abatement costs.”

The city has asked for an entry of judgment against the Barretts “in the amount of total costs incurred” by the city to demolish the three apartment buildings, Mead wrote in the complaint. When Mead filed the complaint in March 2016, the city had spent nearly $1.3 million taking the buildings down.


Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 523-2246 or liz.kellar@juneauempire.com.


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