FOLLOWUP: City tells owner of 3-fires-in-5-years house to tear it down ‘quickly’; demolition-rule changes going to council soon


(WSB photo from Saturday morning by Patrick Sand)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Months before firefighters were called to engulfed-in-flames 9029 16th SW early Saturday morning (WSB coverage here), the 98-year-old house was charred and partly boarded up.

As we reported that morning, the Seattle Fire Department had sent “full responses” there for fires in 2012 – blamed on a cooking fire started by squatters – and in 2015. Neighbors wondered why what was left of the house was still standing.

As promised, we followed up.

First – the city Department of Construction and Inspections tells WSB it has issued two orders to the property’s owners since last weekend’s fire. One orders them to seal up the building on the rear of the site, deadline today. We went back to the house late yesterday and indeed found that happening:

The other order is to tear down what’s left of the burned-out main house, which now looks like this:

SDCI spokesperson Wendy Shark told WSB, “If the owner does not take steps to remove the fire-damaged structure quickly, additional enforcement action will ensue.” As for what “quickly” means, she said, “The owner must demolish (it), or obtain an engineer’s report showing the building is not unsafe, by March 28, 2017.” If they don’t? “Once the compliance date is past without compliance, the files may be referred to the Law Department for additional enforcement.”

As we also noted the morning of the most-recent fire – the cause of which could not be determined by SFD – a redevelopment proposal is on file for the site. While a mixed-use plan was filed with the city in September, county records show ownership was transferred from an individual to an LLC (with whom the same individual is listed as associated) in December, and no further activity on the proposal is shown in online files. But a document in the system related to the September proposal includes this notation by a representative for the ownership:

There is an abandoned structure on site, and might have been occupied by homeless people. The owner has got couples phone calls from city about this issue. We are wondering whether we could demolish the structure as soon as we submitted building permit.

The files don’t show how that question was answered – or even whether it was answered; the proposal had not progressed to the building-permit application stage. (We have an inquiry out to the person listed as a contact at the time. An update: The document with that inquiry, while related to the September proposal, carries the date February 17, 2017.) But it brings up the long-running issue of city policy regarding tearing down dilapidated, dangerous houses like this. It’s an issue almost everywhere such houses stand – we wrote about it back in 2009, when a North Delridge community advocate led city leaders on a tour of problem properties.

In this November 2016 Seattle Times story about the issue, it was mentioned that the city was considering changing the rules. So we asked SDCI’s Shark about that. She pointed us to this page of the city website, where proposed changes are detailed in this draft ordinance. Among other things, its summary says it would:

Demolition of Unfit Buildings (SMC 22.208.020)
 Establish an expedited process for ordering the demolition of a vacant building that can be documented as hazardous.

Demolition of Housing (SMC 23.40.006)
 In instances when a final redevelopment permit has not yet been issued, reduce the length of time that rental housing must sit vacant before a demolition permit can be issued (from 12 months to 4 months), and expand to apply to commercial, industrial, and multifamily zones (in addition to single-family zones)

Shark says the City Council “will likely consider the legislation next month.”

Meantime, what’s left of 9029 16th SW is still standing as of our last check about half an hour before we published this story. This type of structure poses a special hazard to firefighters, who had to make the call upon arrival Saturday morning to deal with it as a “derelict” structure, fighting the fire “defensively.” SFD spokesperson Kellie Randall told us the assessment is made on arrival, as part of a policy developed under SFD Chief Harold Scoggins. No one was injured, and firefighters found no one in the area upon arrival, but because of how ferociously the fire was burning (see our photo atop this story), people in neighboring residential buildings had to be evacuated for a while, for fear it would spread.

We’ll continue to watch the situation, especially whether it gets demolished before the aforementioned deadline.

(Editor’s note: Updated at 1:49 pm to reflect the February 2017 date of the development-proposal-related document asking about demolition possibilities.)

10 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: City tells owner of 3-fires-in-5-years house to tear it down 'quickly'; demolition-rule changes going to council soon"

  • Jon Wright March 2, 2017 (11:51 am)

    Additional enforcement action? Twice nothing is still nothing. :-/

  • newnative March 2, 2017 (12:29 pm)

    The owner should have demolished it the first time it went up in flames.  They should be held responsible for all costs related to the safety response.

  • Mike March 2, 2017 (5:20 pm)

    We’ve got one in our neighborhood, falling apart with transients occasionally occupying.  Bad situation.

  • wetone March 2, 2017 (5:32 pm)

    As much as I agree this structure needs to go and is a hazard, how can city enforce laws they don’t enforce on themselves ? Just look at all the poorly maintained city property’s. Many of homeless and motorhome camps present same issues or worse in many cases ?  Murray, Constantine and city counsel have turned this city into a rat infested, garbage and human waste flowing city. Really surprised people don’t start challenging tickets, property infractions and many other things in this city. Not fair one group can do as they wish, while others have to work harder and longer to stay even.

    • Dave March 2, 2017 (7:14 pm)

      Agreed.

  • WSRedux March 3, 2017 (11:34 am)

    WETONE & DAVE: I partially agree regarding the lack of maintenance of public spaces, enforcement of city rules, etc by our dysfunctional municipal government, but I disagree with using that as excuse for not focusing on abandoned, dangerous and derelict homes and larger buildings. At a minimum, the owners of abandoned/empty properties should be charged a tax surcharge for the added risk of fire, policing problems associated with squatters and for the impact the derelict property has on the immediate neighborhood. In addition, after the first fire or the first time squatters have to be evicted, a daily fine should be implemented and the fine should be ratcheted up for every additional fire or incident in which the police are involved. There’s no reason eyesore/festering and dangerous problem buildings such as this should be allowed to remain standing  just so property owners can save a buck by putting off demolition. Demolition should not be linked to if/when the owners get a Master Use Permit to build. Additionally important is that allowing a building to disintegrate should not be used as a tool used by owners to force the Department of Construction & Inspection to issue a building permit.  

    • Jason March 3, 2017 (12:00 pm)

      I would totally agree with adding punitive fines onto mistreated properties such as this.  The house which partially burned across from Lincoln Park a few years has sat with plywood on the doors, tarps on the roof but indications of continued transient activity.  Fines which turn into tax liens can help speed the transition or demolition of these untended, damaged and dangerous properties. 

      Look at the actions the city took at the property slated for expansion of the Morgan Junction park.  They removed the structures well before any construction activity will begin as  cleared ground can’t hid dangerous rodent or vagrant activity.

  • K March 4, 2017 (12:38 pm)

    Is there a  way to get the owners contact information so residents can ask the owners to clean it up?

    how about someone putting a sign up front with this info?

    the owners are putting the neighborhood and fire dept at risk and wasting our tax dollars.

    a little public shaming might help. 

    • WSB March 4, 2017 (1:22 pm)

      For any property in King County, the owners are listed in the King County Parcel Viewer. Follow it through to the “property detail” page, where you also can doublecheck if there were any transactions since the last property-tax bill went out.

      It doesn’t usually include phone numbers or e-mail addresses but a little further Googling usually can turn those up. As can the files for development projects.

  • Alan March 4, 2017 (2:14 pm)

    Yes, the KC parcel viewer is a great resource. I would add that it is always a good idea to also follow the “Property Tax Bill” link (then clicking on “search” button under the “Real Property Tax” section. This will give you the mailing address which may or may not be the same as the property you are researching. Then you can at least snail-mail them. It also helps confirm that any contact info you find is for the correct person.

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