Dangerous Domains: A conversation with Tacoma building inspector Dan McConaughy

The Tacoma Daily Index publishes the City of Tacoma’s calls for bids asking contractors to complete a range of projects. In recent months, a certain type of project has been put out to bid quite often — small works contracts to demolish some of Tacoma’s most unsightly buildings.

The bid documents usually include photographs of buildings in various states of ruin: piles of dirty clothes; broken furniture and fixtures; evidence of looting; yards overgrown with weeds; bright yellow signs stapled to the structures and announcing, ‘Notice. Must Not Be Occupied’; and front doors boarded over by heavy plywood with similar messages: ‘No Trespassing. Violators Will Be Arrested. Keep Tacoma Safe.’

Since this spring, the City has awarded a number of contracts to raze many buildings deemed dangerous to the public.

In May, two contracts were awarded to Tacoma-based Wm. Dickson Co. — one to demolish a former restaurant building located at 722 S. 38th St.; and another to demolish a former single-family home located at 6506 Tacoma Ave. S.

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Four months later, two contracts were awarded to Puyallup-based Pelland Enterprises — one to demolish a 1,944-square-foot, 73-year-old former single-family residence located at 2101 S. Sprague Ave.; and another to demolish a 998-square-foot, 73-year-old former single-family residence located at 6220 E. Portland Ave. Also in September, a contract was awarded to Puyallup-based Woodland Industries to demolish a 1,028-square-foot, 114-year-old former single-family residence located at 1954 S. Wilkeson St.

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Last week, the City issued a call for bids to demolish a three-story, 2,988-square-foot, 86-year-old former apartment building located at 1313-1/2 Fawcett Ave. The bid deadline expires at 11 a.m. on Fri., Nov. 21. The project is estimated to cost $21,000.

The topic is very popular among Index readers, so we recently contacted City of Tacoma Code Inspector Supervisor Dan McConaughy for more details about the demolitions.

TACOMA DAILY INDEX: In bid documents, the City notes the buildings are ‘abandoned and derelict.’ What is the status of ownership on these buildings? Are they owned by the City of Tacoma (therefore the City can demolish them)? Can you provide a better understanding of the process of abandoned building demolitions?

DAN MCCONAUGHY: These buildings are privately owned and have gone through a dangerous building process which is identified under RCW 35.80 and Tacoma Municipal Code (TMC) Chapter 2.01. The buildings have a hearing at which time the City presents testimony as to why the buildings are dangerous, and the owners can present testimony as to why they are not. The owners are then given a decision by the Hearings Officer to either repair or remove the buildings. If the owners fail to comply, the City will demolish the buildings.

INDEX: What is the impetus for demolishing these buildings (crime, homeless squatting, copper wire theft, neighborhood complaints, etc.)?

MCCONAUGHY: Building condition and property condition. If you look at Chapter 2.01 and review Table E, these are the violations addressed in the Dangerous Building Complaint that goes before the Hearings Officer. These properties are usually vandalized, and you will at times find people living in them. Also, wire theft does occur. The City will have the buildings vacated and secure them — and a lot of times re-secure — from third party entry as needed. Also, the majority of our workload is complaint-driven.

INDEX: Is there an increased effort under way right now to demolish abandoned, derelict or dangerous buildings? The City has issued five contracts for building demolitions since this spring. Is that figure high, low or normal?

MCCONAUGHY: I would say that this is average. The demolitions are normally more spaced out. Our goal is not to demolish buildings. We want to give the owner every opportunity available to repair these buildings or do the work themselves. It is not until they have exhibited that they are going to do nothing is when we must protect the public’s interest and remove the buildings.

INDEX: Is any effort made by the City or the contractor to salvage or recycle building materials during the demolitions in order to prevent them from entering local landfills?

MCCONAUGHY: When we have a building demolished, we obtain an asbestos survey. Once the hazardous materials have been removed, the contractor is able to take the waste to a recycler. I know a lot of the contractors use Recovery 1 on the tide flats. Also, there is a sheet attached to the bid specification that asks the contractor questions about what measures they will take to support sustainability.

INDEX: Are these buildings part of the so-called ‘Filthy 15′ in Tacoma, or are they different from that roster? Is the Filthy 15 list still maintained?

MCCONAUGHY: No. This list is no longer maintained.

To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of dangerous, derelict, and abandoned buildings (and related demolitions) in Tacoma, click on the following links:

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index, an award-winning journalist, and author of A Reporter At Large: A decade of Tacoma interviews, feature articles, and photographs. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.