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City wants $100,000 from 'pit' owners

Surveyor says site has caused damage to streets, sidewalks

Posted: Friday, March 19, 2010

The city and borough of Juneau plans to file a complaint and seek more than $100,000 for damage to public streets and sidewalks from the owners of the property widely known as the downtown "pit."

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

In a law department memorandum for the Assembly's Monday work session, Assistant City Attorney Jane Sebens said the complaint will seek "compensatory damages, as well of equitable relief, in the form of an order compelling the property owners to abate the public nuisance that exists on the property."

She said the city would file for at least $100,000.

The 108-year-old building at 213 Front Street burned August 15, 2004. After the removal of the building's remains the property has remained largely untouched behind a fence, accumulating trash and debris.

In June of 2008, Juneau Chief Regulatory Surveyor Ron King wrote property owners Thomas Huntington and Hugh Grant a letter requesting "immediate action" for several concerns.

"The sidewalks on Front Street, Shattuck Way, and Seward Street are failing and are extremely hazardous due to lack of lateral support because the building that burned down was removed in its entirety," he said. "Further inspection has revealed the curb is pulling away from the street surface as well."

The fire itself damaged street lights, and heavy equipment used to clean up the property damaged the sidewalk, King said. The street lights were repaired; the sidewalk was not.

At the Assembly's Monday meeting, members of the group Leadership Juneau asked the Assembly to take action or help facilitate a solution for the area. The group started a Facebook page called "Fix the Pit" earlier this month that as of Thursday evening had almost 300 members.

"The Assembly has an obligation not to allow a private property owner to damage public property even with their inaction," said group member Jeff Rogers at the meeting. "On the other side of this is a pretty bright future for the pit. Right now it's pretty grim."

When reached by telephone Thursday, Huntington declined to answer most questions, but did say he plans to clean the property by Tuesday.

Deputy Mayor and Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska Finance Committee Chair Randy Wanamaker said the council is in talks with the owners to purchase the property for a "living cultural center."

Wanamaker said he understands the purchase to be "pretty close" but is not involved with talks directly.

"(President Bill Martin) saw the pit as a place where not only could a building fit, but a cultural center would be the heart of where the activity in Juneau occurs," he said. "The culture and arts center would be accessible to everybody there and would help to enhance the downtown area... Having it in the downtown area is very important if the pit can be acquired at a reasonable cost."

The council has asked the federal government for help find funding for the center.

The 9,471-square-foot lot is listed on the CBJ Assessor's Web site as having a value of $800,000.

• Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or maryc.martin@juneauempire.com.



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