City razes abandoned homes off Burnham Dr.

Public safety: Pair that were problematic for city make way for new development

of the GatewayFebruary 26, 2014 

John Oldham stepped out of his Jeep and saw the excavator was piling up debris. It was wonderful.

“The slum of Gig Harbor is no more,” he said.

Oldham has spent the past several years trying to get two houses off Burnham Drive near the Gig Harbor Little League fields torn down. The dilapidated homes were notorious as a dumping ground for drug paraphernalia and debris.

“This place has been a thorn in everybody’s side for a long time,” Oldham said of both houses.

The excavator moved rubble into a pile on Thursday. Bright-colored trash, a laundry basket, a Cool Whip tub, glass shards, half a couch and a garden hose were littered around the site.

For years, the houses were considered a scourge by city council member Michael Perrow.

“Thank goodness they’re gone,” he said. “What a blight.”

Perrow works on Burnham Drive and has driven, jogged and walked by the houses for years. He said they were a haven for “vagrant drug users.”

The houses were boarded up about 2011. Like Oldham, Perrow has worked for a while to get them removed. A fire that broke out on one property didn’t finish the job.

Perrow said the demolition has been rumored since the beginning of the year. A developer is moving forward with a housing development, he said.

“It’s quite a massive project,” Perrow said. “There’s quite a few parcels there.”

In 2012, the previous property owner, Bryan Stowe, was fined $750,000 for violating federal environmental laws and served six months in prison. The case was not in Gig Harbor. The charges stemmed from a mudslide on the West Valley Highway.

“It’ll be a whole new neighborhood now,” City Administrator Dennis Richards said of the project.

There’s a new property owner who is easier for the city to deal with, Richards said. A section of the Cushman Trail will run through the property, too.

Richards said it’s good that the old houses are out of there.

“Gig Harbor’s not used to ugly homes,” he said.

However, there’s still the problem of dumping on the vacant lots. For years, the property was home to leftover siding, lumber, garbage and more. The next step for the city, Richards said, is to keep dumpers off the property.

For now, the eyesores that Oldham fought against for so long are gone, and that means a safer area for ballplayers.

Oldham recalled showing Pierce County Council member Stan Flemming the site. A baseball was on the ground near one of the homes. Oldham said Little Leaguers who hit balls near the house were afraid to retrieve them. Now, there’s only foundation across from the field.

As Oldham watched the demolition, he moved into a new role.

“I’m just a happy bystander,” he said. “It’s good to see this out of our community.”

Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at karen.miller@gateline.com. Follow her on Twitter, @gateway_karen.

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