October 19, 2012 in City

Abandoned grocery draws complaints from neighbors

By The Spokesman-Review
Tyler Tjomsland photoBuy this photo

Officer Traci Douglas patrols the parking lot of the old Albertsons store on Northwest Boulevard on Wednesday. Neighbors have complained that transients are hanging around the building.
(Full-size photo)

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The new owners of the vacant Albertsons building in Spokane’s West Central neighborhood are preparing to post no-trespassing signs to remedy neighborhood complaints and police concerns about transients.

The empty grocery store property along Northwest Boulevard between Maple and Ash streets had become a problem for neighbors.

Transients built a temporary camp. Neighbors complained of fighting, masturbation, feces and garbage.

Police were frustrated. Without permission from property owners, trespass enforcement proved difficult. Spokane police Officer Traci Douglas said transients have been camping out near the loading dock because it’s isolated from the main roads.

“I have a transient person problem down there,” Douglas said.

After slow sales forced the Albertsons to close in July 2011, ownership of the property transferred to an Ohio investment group owned by Schottenstein Stores Corp., which then sold the property to LNR Partners LLC in Florida earlier this month.

The fast change of ownership between out-of-state companies makes it hard to enforce the building’s transient activity because police say they don’t have the permission to evict trespassers from the property.

“Typically, it should be the responsible party or business that takes care of their own property. The person I contacted was out of state, so I was trying to make it as easy and quick as possible to get those signs up,” Douglas said. “We’re not in a position to get those signs installed. If they can’t do it quickly, then we have a problem there.”

Contacting the owners of vacant or foreclosed property is difficult.

Once property owners allow police on their land, the next step is to “baby-sit the property until the problem goes away,” Douglas said.

In order for the city’s code enforcement department to get involved, the building must be unfit for human habitation.

The only no-trespassing signage the city has available to install on a property is when it is declared substandard.

Heather Trautman, code enforcement supervisor, stressed this issue is not the city’s responsibility.

“It’s up to the property owner to make the property secure and to make sure there’s appropriate notice if you want everybody to know they’re not supposed to be there,” Trautman said.

In the past year, the code enforcement has received two complaints about the former Albertsons property, for zoning and solid waste.

Though the property has new ownership, the senior vice president of LNR Partners, Bill Ohlsen, said the company plans to find a new tenant or operator.

About three weeks ago a management company inspected the property for LNR. The transient issue was not noted.

A local real estate representative will manage the property cleanup and install no-trespassing signs.

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