City was correct in tearing down Gastineau Apartments, judge rules

The City and Borough of Juneau is scheduled to go to trial against James and Kathleen Barrett to recoup costs of demolishing the twice-burned Gastineau Apartments, and the city attorney’s task got a little easier after a hearing Friday morning.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg ruled Friday morning that the city was within its rights to demolish the apartment buildings in January 2016 after the apartments had caught fire twice in the previous four years. City Attorney Amy Mead said Pallenberg’s decision means she now has less to prove in the upcoming trial.

“Without this decision, we would have had to go to trial that the building was a public nuisance, to establish the validity of the demolition order, and now both of those things have been decided,” Mead said in an interview after the hearing.

Mead said the main issue at hand in the trial, which is set to begin at 9 a.m. Aug. 13, is who should be held responsible for the costs of the demolition. The city paid about $1.6 million on the demolition, Mead has said.

“I don’t think there’s any question that Gastineau Apartments LLC, as the owner of the property, should be held responsible,” Mead said. “The question is whether or not Mrs. Barrett or Mr. Barrett have any personal liability.”

James was not present Friday and Kathleen, who lives out of state, did not call in. Their lawyer, Joe Josephson, called into the hearing.

Pallenberg also ruled that James Barrett, who was then the owner of the buildings through Gastineau Apartments LLC, did not do everything in his power to appeal the city’s order that the buildings were a public nuisance.

As CBJ Assistant Municipal Attorney Robert Palmer explained in an interview Friday, James Barrett could have filed an appeal to the Building Code Board of Appeals, but Barrett did not. Barrett filed one small appeal in regard to the city’s appraisal of the building, Palmer said, but that appeal had nothing to do with the demolition.

Josephson argued on behalf of the Barretts on Friday that even an appeal to the Building Code Board of Appeals probably would have fallen on deaf ears. Pallenberg disagreed.

“There’s really no evidence in support of that,” Pallenberg said during the hearing. “There’s no evidence that the board wouldn’t have held a real hearing, wouldn’t have had an open mind, wouldn’t have considered the record. Any arguments that Mr. Barrett or Ms. Barrett might have made, had they pursued the process, is really sheer speculation.”

The fact that James didn’t do everything he could to appeal at the time of the demolition order, Pallenberg ruled, means the Barretts cannot argue in the upcoming trial that the city was incorrect in its action.

After the initial fire in 2012, the building sat vacant for years and continued to deteriorate, Mead has explained in the past. The city demolished the building in January 2016. The property is currently vacant and owned by Kathleen and Breffni Properties.

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.

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