Council debates 9-inch fail

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RALPH BARTOLDT/Press A person walks past a ramp built outside the newly renovated Elks Lodge on Lakeside Avenue in Coeur d’Alene. The ramp encroaches onto the city sidewalk by 9 inches.

COEUR d’ALENE — Less than a foot of encroachment from a newly built concrete ramp onto a Coeur d’Alene city sidewalk has caused some kvetching among City Council members who blame building inspectors for turning a blind eye to construction violations.

The ramp in question was recently built by Ginno Construction, one of the contractors hired to refurbish the old Elks Lodge on Lakeside Avenue downtown. Now named the Innovation Den, it is home-base for the Innovation Collective.

About 9 inches of the 25-foot iron and concrete ramp on the 100 block of North Fifth Street is on city property, streets and engineering manager Tim Martin said during this week’s council meeting. But the encroachment for the length of the ramp on the east side of the building allows plenty of room for pedestrians to pass on the adjoining sidewalk, including wheelchairs.

“We made sure we had accessibility and it’s well within ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) access,” Martin said.

Council members wondered how long before construction was completed did city inspectors know the ramp would be an encroachment, and why they did not stop the work?

“We did catch it,” Martin said. “We didn’t give a stop order.”

The penalty for encroachments can be severe. The city could require the $15,000 ramp to be torn out and a replacement built that follows legal parameters.

Council member Dan Gookin asked the council to vote on removing and replacing the ramp.

Gookin said the city is rife with examples in which new construction failed to follow plans resulting in encroachments onto city property, or just plain lousy construction that did not meet city code. He blamed both on inspectors willing to look the other way, and council members who lacked the backbone to enforce the law.

“It seems we have a lack of fortitude to tell them they need to tear it out,” Gookin said. “Word gets out, wink wink, the city will allow it.”

Ron Edinger, the city’s longest-running council member, said over the years he has seen the same developments: Too many contractors have gotten a pass on code violations.

“I kind of agree with Gookin,” Edinger said. “We got rules. We’re supposed to abide by them, instead of saying, I’m sorry, but....”

To mitigate the error, Ginno has offered to provide approximately $700 worth of materials for cosmetic work the city has planned on three neighboring street corners.

Council member Kiki Miller said she has no way of knowing how often contractors violate the city’s construction rules, but she was aware of several projects that inspectors red-flagged because of code violations.

In the end, with a 4-2 vote, the council accepted Ginno’s good-faith exchange for the encroachment. Gookin and Edinger voted against the exchange.

City administrator Jim Hammond said refurbishing the antique 34,000 square foot former Elks Lodge — which has sat vacant for two decades — into a business incubator, bar and coffee shop was more valuable to the city than 9 inches of sidewalk.

“In the broader perspective, this building sat vacant for 20 years without collecting taxes,” Hammond said. “What difference does 9 inches make? Probably none at all.”

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