A judge has ruled in the Petersburg borough’s favor in a court appeal over a home deemed as a dangerous house. The piling foundation failed for the home on Wrangell Avenue in 2009 and the borough sought to have the owners demolish the structure, which they did last year.

In his January 16th ruling, superior court Judge Phillip Pallenberg affirmed the borough’s determination that the home at 1011 Wrangell Avenue was a dangerous building. He wrote that determination was supported by substantial evidence.

The home owners Fred Triem and Karen Ellingstad took down the structure last year but there are some remaining building materials at the site. Triem said he hopes to construct a new building there. “The old building is gone,” Triem said. “Whether it was or was not a dangerous building is not something we need to debate now because it’s not there anymore and it’s been taken down and there’s nothing there but the materials that are salvageable and can be reused.”
The foundation of the home failed in 2009, leaving it resting on toppled pilings. In 2012 the municipality wrote to owners ordering them to fix the structure or have it demolished. In 2013, the borough assembly held a hearing on the issue and ordered the house fixed or torn down within 30 days. Triem said the building was not dangerous and asked for more time to repair the foundation.

The homeowners ended up appealing the borough’s decision and the two sides made their arguments before the judge last August. Triem and Ellingstad argued they were not given a fair hearing, while the borough’s attorney Jim Brennan argued the homeowners were not contesting the borough’s determination of a dangerous building.

Pallenberg noted he did have significant concerns about the fairness of the process followed before the assembly. He noted the building official’s report on the house was not provided to the home owners before a December 2nd 2013 hearing. He also pointed out Leo Luczak the borough’s building official at that time did not appear at that hearing and was not available for cross examination. Despite those concerns, Pallenberg found the error in procedure was harmless.

Borough assembly members learned about the court ruling at a meeting this week. Mayor Mark Jensen read from a letter written by Jim Brennan, the borough’s attorney. “I therefore recommend that the manager or I send the owners a notice to complete the removal of the materials by a stated date, failure of which will trigger removal of the materials by the borough, a motion to the court to hold the owners in contempt, or both. I will also be preparing a motion for attorney’s fees and costs,” Brennan wrote. “So a little long overdue but that’s been settled,” Jensen added.

For his part, Triem said the materials still on the site can be reused for another structure. The attorney and the local municipality have gone to court over a building before. The last dispute was a decade and a half ago over the foundation of a home built in 1902 that now sits at the corner of first and Fram streets.