City of Olympia: Business owner in violation after building wall to keep out homeless

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OLYMPIA, Wash. – One business owner in downtown Olympia said she is fed up with vagrants sleeping, doing drugs or going to the bathroom in the alcove in front of her shop’s door.

Anne Buck built a wall to keep homeless people from camping out in front of her 5th Avenue store — but city officials now have warned her it has to go.

“I feel sorry for these people but I also have to run a business and I’m going to run a business. We have needles and we have clothing, pee and poop,” she said. “I have to call the ambassadors.”

Part of The Olympia Downtown Ambassadors’ job is to clean up after reports of human waste.

Buck said she has called them in the past but thinks her wall will take care of her problem and allow cleanup crews to work in other areas.

The city of Olympia believes that Buck’s wall is illegal because she did not get a permit or use proper materials. Plus, the 93-year-old building is located in a national historic district and the wall didn’t go through a design review.

City officials released a statement to Q13 News:

"The City of Olympia completely understand Ms. Buck’s frustration about the negative activity happening in her business alcove. We share her concerns and understand why she took action to make it stop. However, the City has three concerns specifically with Ms. Buck’s structure:

  • That type of construction requires a permit and inspection.  No permit was sought for the work and the work has not been inspected.
  • Ms. Buck’s business is in a historic building located in a national historic district. This adds a heightened level of scrutiny to physical changes made to the building. Construction like the “wall” on a historic building has to go through the Design Review process. It did not.
  • The door on the “wall” was built without the required “Panic Hardware.” This creates a real safety concern for people who might have to get out of the building fast in an emergency, like a fire.

"So the issue is not that Ms. Buck took action to stop the negative activity happening in her alcove. The bottom line for the City is that unpermitted, uninspected, unreviewed construction happened on a historic downtown building that raises historic preservation and life-safety concerns for us.

"How the process works is this: A Notice of Violation has been sent out by Certified Mail to Ms. Buck.  When she receives it she will have two weeks to either take the structure down or get a permit to build something that is in keeping with the historic preservation requirements of the building and ensures people in the building can get out safely in an emergency.

"The City stands ready to explore other ideas, and possible approaches and solutions with Ms. Buck. We hope that happens. We want the best for her and her business. We all win when downtown thrives."

But Buck said she focused on staying in business by keeping human waste and drug needles away from her door step.

“As soon as I put it up, the city told me to take it down, which I have no intention of doing because I’m trying to help them and I’m trying to run a business,” she said.

The city said it sent a violation notice to Buck and she has two weeks to get a permit for the wall or tear it down, but Buck said she has no intention of removing it.

“Somebody’s trying to be helpful and run a business and beautify the city and we get in trouble for what?” she asked. “It’s just amazing. I probably should get a gold medal.”