Long-Running Craftsman’s Mall Enforcement Imbroglio Resolving – December 26, 2011

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Craftsman’s Mall, viewed from the west. Google Earth Image

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

ST. LOUIS ROAD – The Craftsman’s Mall is what Community Development Director Larry Oetker calls “one of the longest-standing enforcement projects that we have in the City.”

If you don’t know where or what the Craftsman’s Mall is, that’s because the sprawling complex of motley buildings is tucked away on the dead-end of south St. Louis Road.

Oddly, that location is both obscure and, to its neighbors, prominent because of its impacts. The 10-acre mall complex borders Maple Lane to the west, the Janes Creek Meadows subdivision to the north, Eye Street and Arcata Elementary School to the south.

Owned by Russell Kirkpatrick, the Craftsman’s Mall is a warren of artist spaces, light industrial activity and residences implemented the old-fashioned way – by just installing them without consideration for building codes, permits, permission or paperwork.

As a result, the mall has been a continuing code violation and enforcement headache for the City of Arcata for years, with a comprehensive Notice of Nuisance issued but left unaddressed for years.

City officials don’t wish to quash a bustling enterprise, but can’t ignore the numerous environmental and safety hazards there. Now, it looks like relief may be in sight.

At last week’s Historic and Design Review Commission meeting, Kirkpatrick and Sarah Atkins of Atkins Drafting explained their plans to address and correct the various problems.

Oetker lauded the mall’s concept as a “unique idea” projected to create some 110 jobs across a varied range of businesses.

Kirkpatrick said the mall is ideal habitat for “artistic, creative people who need a shop. Everything we’ve got is rented.”

In 2006, Building Official Dean Renfer inspected every building on the site. “I found that basically, everything that was done out there except for a few items, was done without a permit,” Renfer said.

A slide show detailed the violations, some of them almost comically outrageous and unsafe.  You name it,” Renfer said. “The wiring was pretty scary.”

Walls, plumbing, electrical and mechanical installations were way out of code, posing serious safety issues. Wastewater was being discharged into a wetland behind one of the buildings. Rotten posts hold up a structure with businesses inside. Windows were cut into a firewall. Ungrounded metal shipping containers are wired for electricity. Buildings had been subdivided into smaller rooms for woodworking, welding, auto repair and fertilizer storage. There are exposed electrical panels, unsecured oxygen tanks, a ceiling and walls made of flammable plastic tarps and sheeting, even outdoor electrical outlets installed on a fence.

The mall is full of interesting sights. KLH | Eye

Following the procession of pictures depicting violations, the good-natured Kirkpatrick congratulated staff. “You did a good job with the slide show,” he said. “You should do this professionally. I saw things I didn’t know I had.”

Renfer told the HDRC commissioners Kirkpatrick has hired an engineer and submitted plans to correct seismic problems. Atkins has submitted plans to correct the issues, and an electrical engineer will correct wiring issues.

To Oetker, this is progress on a cosmic scale. “The moon and the stars are aligned,” he said. “We’re literally on the verge of solving this problem.”

The next step was for HDRC to issue a building permit, even if the plans weren’t perfect. “Everything isn’t 100 percent,” Oetker noted. “To a certain extent we’re not all going to get what we want. It’s just the fact.” However, important fixes will include ADA-compliant parking, landscaping, coordinated signage and paved roads.

Commissioner Jeanette Heartwood lamented that the shrubbery that lines the freeway is interrupted at the Craftsman’s Mall.

Commissioner Genevieve Schmidt suggested that native foliage be planted and that a line of trees be installed along along the mall’s south border to screen industrial buildings from residential Eye Street.

HDRC then passed a unanimous motion to accept the project.

Oetker later said that one final project review will take place, with all relevant City departments signing off.

A building permit will then be issued and the Notice of Nuisance on the property’s title released. This will give banks confidence to lend Kirkpatrick the money to make the corrections, with the funds placed in an escrow account and released only to contractors.

Oetker hopes to have the whole package of fixes complete in a year’s time. He was excited to have the enterprise becoming legal at last.

“Russell’s been very cooperative,” Oetker said. “He’s doing some really unique things out there.”