Unsafe structures: City code allows for vacant home's demolition

What stood since 1967 came crumbling down in one day.

A home located at 29305 8th Ave. S. was demolished March 30 as part of the city's effort to remove unsafe structures.

State law RCW 35.80 and Federal Way city code 7.566 bestowed the city permission to tear down the two-story house. A tax lien on the property ensures the owner will pay the city for the work.

A fire ravaged the structure in February 2008. Flames began in the garage, spreading to the roof. Ceramic rooftop tiles, weighing nearly 8 pounds each, incubated the flames. The fire wrapped around the home's supporting wood beams, burning them to a charred crisp. It spread throughout the top floor. It melted the home's siding in places and left the garage an unrecognizable, half-collapsed mess.

The downstairs, over the past year, filled with puddles of rain water that leaked through the damaged top floor. More debris and the remains of furniture and other household goods were strewn about prior to the demolition.

The house stood vacant since the fire. It posed a danger to the public, said City of Federal Way building official Lee Bailey. Neighbors said they were happy to see the home torn down. It's been an eyesore for more than a year, neighbor Larry Linville said.

"I'm glad to see this finally going down," Linville said. "I was waiting and waiting."

Across the street, neighbor Maggie Jolley is thankful there was no wind the night the fire ignited around 2 a.m. Other homes escaped danger, but the charred and empty house is a reminder of that sad night, she said. It is surprising the home did not attract rodents or curious children after the incident, she said.

Jolley and Linville were among the few neighbors who stopped by to watch a backhoe tear the home to pieces. The machine's big bucket toppled walls amid the sound of splintering wood. The heavy equipment punctured the roof several times, causing the ceramic tiles to break and clink like glassware. Prior to demolition with the backhoe, asbestos and other harmful materials were extracted from the building. The walls, foundation, sidewalks and the house's insides were all torn up. Concrete pieces and other items were recycled.

"When we look at contractors, we look for people who can do stuff that is environmentally safe," code compliance officer Greg Vause said.

A contracting company performed the work. The bill came to approximately $15,000. The city paid this, and a tax lien was put on the property. Now, it will be up to the owner to decide what happens to the property next.

The city's actions are fair, Jolley said. The building was dangerous and the owner, who was injured during the fire and remains in a medical facility, has not returned, she said. The owner lived there for more than 20 years, she said.

"The man will never come back to the home," Jolley said.

The city passed its unfit structures code in 2007. Roughly 25 of the 30 buildings deemed unfit have since been removed, Bailey said. The first one was toppled about a year ago in Twin Lakes. Many of the buildings were old and others suffered fire damage, he said. All but two have been demolished by their owners after the individuals were notified of the city's code, he said.

Many characteristics can propel a structure toward an unfit status, he said. A building void of all its windows, unable to hold heat or lacks electricity could qualify as unfit, he said. No commercial buildings are identified as unfit.

"We were pretty conservative in our estimates of unfit structures," Bailey said.

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