December 5, 2013 | Vol. 39, No. 49

Owner ordered to repair or raze home in 30 days

The Petersburg borough assembly ordered Fred Triem and Karen Ellingstad to repair or demolish their property at 1011 Wrangell Avenue after a non-compliance hearing last Monday and colorful testimony given by Triem, which included a threat to engage in litigation with the borough.

The building’s foundation failed in September 2009. On June 21, 2012 Leo Luczak, Community Development Director, sent notice to Ellingstad that the structure had been deemed a dangerous building.

Since then, Luczak has requested a plan for how the structure would be repaired but no such document has been provided and several extension applications by Ellingstad have been denied.

According to a report written by Luczak, the roof and floor loads lack proper support and are not safe to be used as a dwelling, the structure has no water or sewer connections and no light or sanitation facilities.

“The condition of the structure presents a hazard to the public, and surrounding properties, the collapse of the foundation has caused a deterioration of the neighborhood and negatively impacted the surrounding property owners,” the report states.

The assembly heard from Triem who asked that the hearing be rescheduled for a time Ellingstad could be present to speak for herself. She did not attend the non-compliance hearing because she was out of town on vacation.

Treim also disputed Luczak’s determination that the building was dangerous using a wooden box, a model of the structure in question, and two band-aid boxes, the pilings, to demonstrate how the house fell and consequently landed on its pilings.

“Whatever potential energy it had when it was up in the air has now been dissipated and it’s on the ground…this building poses no danger to the neighbors,” Triem said.

He cited buildings that stored poisonous gas like ammonia are dangerous because the gas could escape and drift onto surrounding properties.

Triem added that any forced demolition made by the borough would be a “very expensive process” because of the ensuing legal battles.

“The city has engaged me in four separate lawsuits since I came here in 1979 over the building at 1st and Fram,” Triem said. “That building is still there and I suggest that’s either attributed to the wisdom of our legal system or perhaps to the tenacity of the owner. I predict it (the borough) will see the same kind of tenacity on Wrangell Avenue.”

Triem experienced a similar situation with the then City of Petersburg with the property on 1st and Fram where he was able to get extensions after litigation in court.

During the hearing, Triem pulled out a large wad of cash from his wallet and placed it in the wooden box—a symbol for how much money the borough would spend in litigation on the matter.

He continued his testimony by offering the assembly a compromise—that his contractor would either repair or demolish the building by Labor Day with the caveat that the borough re-connect power to the structure.

John Hoag questioned Triem about why he needed so long to make repairs.

“Why until Labor Day?” Hoag asked. “Your house has been sitting on the ground for four years. It’s not improving in value sitting on the ground this way. Why should the borough consider all the way to Labor Day?”

Triem answered that weather conditions along with the time it would take for the contractor to mobilize equipment would prevent work to be done that quickly but didn’t mention why the building has sat for so long.

The assembly then heard written testimony from neighbors who lived near the property.

Many of the complaints focused on the structure’s danger, that wild animals inhabited the building, that action on the matter was long overdue and that it was an eyesore.

“Nobody wants a building like this in their neighborhood,” Max Worhatch, IV wrote in a letter. “It is a safety hazard, reduces home values, not on the tax rolls though, promotes propagation of vermin and is a general eyesore. Their lack of action brings me to the conclusion that the building should be destroyed at the owner’s expense.”

The assembly met in executive session later in the meeting to discuss the matter. Afterwards it voted to give the property owners 30 days to repair or demolish the building. If Triem and Ellingstad fail to do so the borough will demolish it at the owners’ expense.

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