Janesville53.7°

Will Grafft face more citations?

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Ann Fiore
October 9, 2007

The owner of the condemned Jeffris Theater could face additional citations the longer he waits to comply with the city’s condemnation order, a Janesville city official said Monday.


As of Monday afternoon, property owner Jim Grafft had not braced the walls of his partially demolished theater at 319 W. Milwaukee St., said Gale Price, city manager of building and development services.


Price also said, to his knowledge, Grafft had not hired 24-hour security guards for the site.


Those requirements were among several in a condemnation order the city issued Thursday after an engineer called the building unsafe.


The order also required Grafft to fence the property, build temporary roof structures over adjacent sidewalks, and to finish demolition within 30 days. Grafft currently has two citations for not completing demolition within 30 days, Price said.


On Friday, the city followed up the condemnation order by sending in a contractor to fence the site.


The old theater is wedged next to the former Monterey Hotel, which Grafft also owns. It abuts Jeffris Flats, where the YWCA provides transitional housing for women and their minor children.


The demolition has affected residents of Jeffris Flats. Five apartments stand empty because they’re too close to the demolition, and two women who were living there have been moved to a hotel, said Martha Pearson, program director.


Children also can’t use the new play set employees of PlayCore/Swing-N-Slide installed in their playground in September. And the transitional living program’s on-site day care had to be moved to nearby First Congregational Church.


“It’s certainly re-traumatized the families who have had to relocate,” Pearson said. “We hope they will be coming back this week.”


Grafft has said he plans to tear down the theater and use the property as a parking lot. He took out a demolition permit Aug. 21 and was to have the building down by Sept. 26.


In interviews with The Janesville Gazette, Grafft has called the city’s demolition deadline “unrealistic” and said the city is harassing him.


Asbestos also has slowed the work, he said.


“They’re going to do whatever they want,” Grafft said Friday. “If they would just stay out of my way, the whole building would be down.”


Price denied the city was harassing Grafft.


“There’s no such thing as harassment when it comes to safety issues,” he said.


The matter has been pressing since November, when city staff first asked a structural engineer to look at the site, Price said. The city Dec. 21 issued Grafft an order to correct because of falling brick and other issues.


Grafft’s current demolition effort is “commendable” because he appears to be saving bricks from going into the landfill, Price said. “But he can’t be doing that at the cost of citizen safety in general.”


Price said the engineer recommended in November that children not use the Jeffris Flats playground because of the Jeffris Theater’s condition.


Pearson said kids have used the playground since then because they have no other alternative. The playground is unusable now because it’s fenced off, she said.



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