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Officials: Washington Avenue eyesore may be demolished soon

Once-inside beams barely hold a portion of the former roof together, glimpsed through a broken window of a burned house on Washington Avenue in Alpena on Thursday.

ALPENA — An Alpena eyesore will soon be no more, if city officials have their way.

A large house on Washington Avenue, destroyed by fire in May 2020, has for nearly nine months marred what many see as an attractive thoroughfare through the city.

The long delay was because of a combination of an owner slow to clear his property and the city’s hands being tied to do anything about it, a city official said.

Meanwhile, neighbors wondered what the holdup was on bringing the burned building down.

Nobody was injured in the May 24 fire, although one cat succumbed to the smoke. The building housed multiple apartments, all of which were destroyed by the fire.

Burned roofs and walls of a Washington Avenue residence in Alpena on Thursday wait for demolition, nine months after the house burned.

According to Alpena City Manager Rachel Smolinski, the city sent a letter telling the property’s owners they have until Feb. 26 to demolish the house.

She anticipates the owners will make that deadline, Smolinski said.

The demolition won’t come a moment too soon for residents of the neighborhood, said Mary Lappan, who lives just past the burned building on Lewis Street.

In addition to being an eyesore, the big house is dangerous, and it stinks, too, she said.

In a strong wind, pieces of the house fly across the street and into a neighbor’s lawn, strewing siding and soffit in the street, Lappan said.

Burned roofs and walls of a Washington Avenue residence in Alpena on Thursday wait for demolition, nine months after the house burned.

“I’m surprised someone didn’t get whacked,” said the self-proclaimed “neighborhood watch,” standing on her front porch on Thursday.

She was there the night of the fire, bundling up the mom and kids who escaped from the home’s basement on a cold, rainy day.

That family was later able to salvage some belongings from the house and drag them to the lawn, but the belongings were stolen, Lappan said.

She wishes the out-of-state owners cared enough about their Alpena property to do something about it.

“I was going to take pictures,” Lappan said, “and send them to ’em every week.”

Burned roofs and walls of a Washington Avenue residence in Alpena on Thursday wait for demolition, nine months after the house burned.

Across Washington Avenue, Carol Lund said she turned to Facebook a while back to try to prod the city into action on the house.

The city responded, explaining the complication of an owner living out of state.

On Halloween, Lund kept an eye on the streetful of trick-or-treaters, worried kids might slip inside the house in search of some spooky fun.

From her front door, she’s seen the house’s roof get gradually lower and lower. Perhaps the owners are waiting for it just to collapse, she said.

“Everyone’s been very upset,” Lund said of her neighbors. “I mean, you don’t let it ruin your life, or anything.”

Burned roofs and walls of a Washington Avenue residence in Alpena on Thursday wait for demolition, nine months after the house burned.

The city didn’t like the long wait to see the house at Washington and Lewis come down, either, said Andrea Kares, director of planning, development, and zoning for the City of Alpena.

To prevent the situation from cropping up in the future, a city committee is developing a new ordinance that will give the city power to act when a building needs to come down.

In the past, Kares said, the city has not had to deal with a large, vacant, potentially dangerous property sitting untended on the corner of a main thoroughfare through a densely populated area.

Because the issue was never raised before, no ordinance was in place to give the city guidelines and offer leverage in resolving such situations, Kares said.

Without such legal language in place, any steps the city took to remove the house could have opened the city to litigation, she said.

The new ordinance will, according to an early draft, require the owner of a dangerous or vacant property — such as that left after a fire — to board up and secure the property, or, if that is not an option, install a fence around the structure to keep people out.

Owners will have three months to apply for a permit to demolish or rebuild the property.

The owners of the Washington Avenue property, who live out of state, took about six months to apply for a permit to demolish, Kares said.

According to the City of Alpena Assessor’s Office, the building is owned by Tanda Rental Properties of Scottsdale, Arizona.

Kares hopes to present a draft of the new ordinance to city leadership by March. The final version should definitely be in place by the end of 2021, she said.

Alpena Fire Department Chief Bill Forbush, who was asked to write the first draft of the planned ordinance, said the fire that destroyed the Washington Avenue house was one of a half-dozen recent fires in Alpena started by careless smoking.

If you have to smoke, be smart about where you put your butt, Forbush advised.

Alpena Fire Department firefighters at one time planned to use the Washington Avenue house for training before it was demolished, but that may not happen before the house is torn down, Forbush reported.

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