August 23, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 34

Planners take aim at boarded-up look

On the recommendation of the Haines Borough Planning Commission, the borough will send a letter to owners of the shuttered Coliseum Theater building on Main Street, asking them to pull plywood off the windows of the structure.

Dorain Gross, who manages the building for Juneau-based Gross Alaska, didn’t return phone and e-mail messages for them Monday.

The commission agreed to the letter Aug. 9 after Kristine Harder, who owns a boutique and clothing store across the street from the building, asked for a prohibition of boarded-up buildings on a few streets in the commercial core.

Harder said she has talked with neighboring businesses “and everyone agreed we wished there weren’t boarded-over buildings in town because it makes us look like we’re a town going under.”

Towns elsewhere have laws prohibiting boarded-up windows and requiring a minimum amount of maintenance, including painting and trimmed grounds, she said.

“It’s a blight on the community when something is allowed to look like that,” she said.

Harder pointed to the Emerson Building, another Main Street commercial building that’s unoccupied and for sale. “That’s a beautiful building with windows open. It’s clean. It looks nice on the outside and ready to do business. If they can do that down the street, they can do it at a place that’s more central and it would help all of us.”

Commissioner Robert Venables said the town should “take slow, small steps” toward vacant building requirements, referring to buildings near Third Avenue and Main Street that also are unoccupied.

Member Donnie Turner said the barracks building in Fort Seward as a building that might fall under new requirements. “When you’re talking about appearances an how it’s painted and borders, I think that’s a real slippery slope to head down.”

Commission chair Rob Goldberg asked Turner, “Do you think it’s okay to let absentee business owners let buildings get run down when it’s right on Main Street?”

“Actually, I do,” Turner replied. He said he’d rather not see the windows boarded but suggested regulation would lead to others similar to ones in the Lower 48 restricting paint colors and length of mowed grass. “There’s a lot of things that happen down south that don’t need to happen here.”

Goldberg responded, “There’s a difference between having a building look like it’s occupied and maintained and having it look like it’s abandoned. Right now that one on Main Street looks like it’s abandoned. That’s what we’re talking about.”

Lenise Henderson Fontenot, who chairs the Downtown Revitalization Committee, said she would support vacant building guidelines. She said she sent an e-mail to the building’s owners months ago and never heard back.

“I’d be in support of some kind of guidelines on how empty buildings should look. The planning commission is in a position to do that. Guidelines would be good, at least for the downtown corridor,” Henderson Fontenot said.

The historic building, that once was the Coliseum Theater and most recently was renovated into a video rental store, has been closed for several years. Officials with Gross Alaska have previously said they’re no longer interested in renting or leasing the building, but would like to sell it.

In recent summers, its owners have taken board off windows for borough staff to put displays of historic photos on them.