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Removing a Nuisance

April 2009

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The neighbors tells us that the smoker died in the fire. This was years before we moved in, back in the 1970s, when a tenant living in an illegal second-story apartment over the garage fell asleep, so the story goes, while smoking in bed. You can guess how that ended.

The owner had the burnt building levelled off at the floor of the top unit, rolled tarpaper over it, and put panelling over the burnt studs below. For three decades after, rain leaked in at every corner, adding rot and mold to the burn damage.

Still, the city was hesitant to let us make any repairs. Over the years, the creek setback had been extended and the building now straddled the setback limit. Could we add a second story? Absolutely not. Fix the roof and repair the broken foundation? Maybe, but probably not. One planner confided to me: "Our goal is to get you to take that building down."

Well, maybe. But before we did, I had one more idea. This winter, as in many winters past we went into the City with another idea and plan: what if we traded 30% of the building's footprint for the right to fix the rest? The planner looked at our drawings as I prattled on about "giving back to the creek--." She interrupted me: "No, I get it: you're trying to make a deal with us." We held our breath. "I like that," she smiled.

Probably didn't hurt that, thanks to the recession and collapse in local construction we were the only people asking for a permit that day. Desperate times.