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City locking horns with new owner of former Elks building

GRANTS PASS — Conflict endures at the site of the former Elks building at 207 S.W. K St.

Since it changed hands, the new owner, Justin Pitts, has been busily remodeling and sprucing up the downtown landmark, but the bustle has led to ordinance violations and conflicts with law enforcement.

Sgt. Ed Burke of the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety confirmed that Pitts was served with notices of several ordinance violations, including scattered rubbish, improper outdoor structures and noxious weed growth in the past weeks.

It isn't particularly alarming for a business undergoing renovation to fall behind on the general cleanup duties required by the city, but there have also been reports of hostile activity by the owners and staff toward Public Safety personnel.

"The last time we went out there, (Pitts) was pretty argumentative and hostile," Burke said. "The community service officer asked for a police officer to be standing by while he conducted his investigation."

The owners of the building have until Wednesday to be in compliance with city code for these violations. However, Burke said CSOs tend to work with property owners and grant extensions if reasonable progress has been made by the deadline.

"We just want the problems remedied," he said. "There's no reason for us to be issuing tickets if they're working on it."

A trip to the site by the Daily Courier Wednesday showed there was still a lot of remodeling activity going on, with crews bringing wooden planks in through the back door of the building. There were still piles of branches and other rubbish along the back side and several dozen vehicles on the back lot, some of which looked disabled.

Burke said his department hasn't had problems with violations at this location in the past. The Elks put the building up for sale in 2015 after occupying it since 1950.

"We didn't even know about the purchase until this issue with the weeds came up," Burke said. "That's new for this location."

This comes amidst disagreements by various community groups over the use of the adjacent Grants Pass Community Center, which Pitts also owns.

Pitts previously told the Daily Courier he had a range of plans for the two spaces, including condominiums and a restaurant.

However officials with the various groups that already used those spaces say the purchase and sudden closure of the building for renovations led to miscommunications and misunderstandings.

The Community Center, which wasn't a publicly owned space like most community centers are, hosted several groups and activities such as karate classes, dance classes and a church group.

The Old Time Radio Players, which used space in the Community Center for performances and rehearsals, said its wasn't aware the transaction had occurred until members received a call from the former building manager, and they have since been unable to retrieve belongings locked inside the building.

The group had to cancel its April performances and scramble to find a new venue for shows and rehearsals. The group has scheduled future performances at Josephine County Fairgrounds and is beginning rehearsals at a new space.

Pitts was reached via phone but declined to comment for this report.

He has previously said he might sell off the two buildings and cancel all plans because of the community perceptions surrounding the transaction.

Officials with the Elks Lodge said they sold the building because of declining membership.

"It was a 30,000-square-foot building that was too big for our current membership," said Elks Lodge President Rob Marks. "We were looking into selling it, and whoever happened to be the person looking into buying it got the sale."

The Elks building sold for $729,000 in November and the Community Center for $420,000 in February.

The Elks have since been sharing a space down the street from its old building with the Eagle's Club.

Marks said the Elks Lodge is still active despite not having a physical lodge, and members are looking at finding a new space for operations.