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Gold Hill scrutinizes downtown digs

GOLD HILL — City officials will look to fire inspectors and legal counsel today for aid in determining the legality of inspecting what they say are unapproved and possibly unsafe downtown dwellings.

Tenants in some of the downtown buildings say random inspections violate their privacy.

The City Council has recently discussed nuisance and blight issues related to the string of properties — particularly trash piles along alleyways and transients sleeping in doorways — on the city's main drag.

Business owners admit the properties with peeling paint and dusty windows could use some renovating but say they appreciate the downtown location and low rents.

The buildings contain an assortment of businesses, including a laundromat, an art gallery, and a tie-dye and gem shop, along with a handful of spaces with no apparent uses.

City Manager Rick Hohnbaum, who told the council it could declare the dwellings in violation of code and push for abatement, said the city would look into grant funding for downtown renovation to both improve the look of the business district and ensure public safety.

Inspections conducted last September by Fire District No. 3 found that some of the units were likely being used as dwellings. City Attorney Steve Rich said the city could potentially declare a public nuisance and seek court orders to force inspections and abatement of problems.

Paige Spiller, owner of The Shack, a tie-dye, gem and mineral shop, took issue with the threat of an impromptu inspection.

Spiller, who said her business was inspected and deemed safe when she opened in December, voiced frustration Friday with the possibility of further inspections.

Spiller, who said she does not live in her shop, said it was unfair for inhabitants of decades-old apartments to suddenly be told their homes were illegal.

"I'm not even sure what they're trying to accomplish, and I'm not even sure that they know what they're trying to do. I'm not a freaking drug dealer. I do tie-dye. I run a business. I don't have people posted up back inside my shop," Spiller said.

"It's pretty sad they have let people live in some of these for as long as they have, and now suddenly it's a problem. Would they rather these buildings be vacant?"

Councilor Doug Reischman voiced concerns about "a lot of junkies" in the dwellings and said the city needed to "know what it looks like inside."

Reischman said he knew "for a fact" that some of the businesses were "below board," and that the city should ensure the properties were up to code.

"It seems to me this is something very important to the community from what I've seen on Facebook ... and I have heard from people that do not walk by the businesses because they're intimidated by people on the streets," Reischman said.

Councilor Donna Silva agreed that the dwellings need to be safe, but voiced concern about invading residents' privacy.

"The only thing I was worried about in the whole thing — because there are residents back there — is that they're safe and that there are firewalls between each of the units," said Silva, adding that she is confused by the city's sudden interest in the block of properties.

"We obviously want to avoid a situation where if there's a fire in one apartment that it takes the whole block out. But if we had inspections and Fire District 3 said they're safe, then who am I to argue? I don't need to go down there and be in people's business."

Contacted Friday, property owner Louis Smart took issue with the city's interest in his properties.

Smart said it was unlawful for the city to "try and figure out how to just come in without permission."

"There've been apartments in here for 15 years, and the code allows it. The city knows there are apartments in here. I built the one I live in, and the city knows I did," Smart said. "I don't know why they're so interested in my properties."

City officials said they will discuss the downtown dwellings during a regular City Council meeting at 6:30 p.m. today at City Hall, 420 Sixth Ave., Gold Hill.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com

Paige Spiller talks Friday inside her Gold Hill store, The Shack. - Julia Moore