PORT ANGELES — So many panhandlers and loiterers were congregating on a concrete pad near one of the city’s busiest intersections in June 2016 that the city staked a fence along the sidewalk at the base of the bluff to keep them out.
It did not help that next to their tiny haven at 208 E. Front St. was a 3,040-square-foot husk of an empty building at 204 E. Front Street, owned by David Gladwin of Port Angeles, that still attracts homeless squatters to the traffic-thick corner at Front and Lincoln streets.
Then, several weeks ago, the fence vanished.
Former City Council member Cherie Kidd, the deputy mayor in 2016, said Friday she’s received numerous calls from residents asking what happened to the barrier, recalling the site it blocked as “a day camp for panhandlers.”
City public works, which had put up the chain link fence, removed it for use on another project, Public Works and Utilities Director Thomas Hunter said Friday, not knowing if the employees who took it knew its original purpose.
Police Chief Brian Smith said last week the concrete pad it enclosed has pretty much remained bare of the itinerant population that rankled City Council members and local residents enough for Kidd to ask Smith in June 2016 to block off the area.
Kidd said it took Smith all of 48 hours to get the job done.
But the pad, on Friday far more overgrown with bluff vegetation than it was five years ago, showed signs that humans were still leaving their unsightly mark.
“What I’ve seen in that area is an increased amount of trash and things like shopping carts,” Smith said.
“I have not seen an increase in human activity since the fence went down.
“What I don’t see is multiple people gathered, people walking into traffic [panhandling].
“That was happening in 2016.”
Its status might soon change.
The large “For Sale Commercial Property” sign offering “Panoramic Mountain & Water View” at 208 and 214 E. Front St. could be coming down in the near future.
Sequim Realtor Michael Echternkamp said Friday a Port Angeles businessman Echternkamp was not authorized to identify had put down earnest money to purchase the two parcels, .48 acres, he said, valued at a combined $145,000, according to county assessor’s office records.
Echternkamp, who last week started his own real estate company, UpperLeft, but still represents Escondido, Calif. owner Matthew Fairshter, said the potential buyer is in talks with the city about what he can build there.
Community Development Manager Emma Bolin did not return calls for comment Friday about discussions with the potential buyer.
City Manager Nathan West, the former community and economic development director, said the empty building parcel and concrete-pad area are zoned central business district, and the 214 E. Front parcel next to the pad residential high density.
“There has been longstanding enforcement action against both properties [204 and 208 E. Front streets] since 2012,” West said.
“There have not been fines at this point. We have gotten responsiveness from those owners. They’ve come in, cleaned up what we asked them to clean up, repaired the nuisance situation, and again [the parcels] get neglected and have to be revisited again.”
Glawin could not be reached for comment Friday.
Friday around noon, a faded, undated unlawful-to-occupy-this-building notice had been posted by the Department of Buildings in one doorway of the building on East Front.
A tiny alcove was jammed with a loaded shopping cart, the plastic four-wheeler covered with a blue sleeping pad that protected a square wicker basket, jeans draped leg-side down over the side.
A path from a parking lot north of the building and next to Mathews Glass Co. led to a tiny area behind the Gladwin building strewn with wood refuse, plastic water containers, a white plastic chair and a dismantled bicycle.
Through a wide-open door could be seen a wooden floor covered with the refuse of life without garbage cans, a rug on the floor, windows broken out, a half-eaten sandwich on a tiny table — and a teddy bear sitting in a chair.
A path narrowed down to the concrete pad, once blocked by the fence but piled with garbage where it met level ground. Cars were backed up at the intersection light.
Kidd suggested re-erecting the fence where it once stood.
“We need to borrow it back,” she said.
“For years, I’ve been picking up trash in that area. It was just overwhelming.
“I’ve seen people with multiple shopping carts, and the garbage is out of control.
“It’s not a good welcome to Port Angeles. It’s not what we really want when people come into our downtown entrance, so we need some relief on that.”
Echternkamp said the Fairshter family is anxious to sell the two lots.
“This is the last piece of property that the family owns, and they’re tickled [pink] because this has been the last piece of property that they have tying them to Port Angeles,” he said.
“They wanted to get rid of it for years and years, and now it seems like it’s going to happen.
“It’s their hope that it’s going to be developed and not be a homeless encampment.”
Hunter, the city public works director, was hired after the fence was erected, unaware of its history.
“I can’t say that I did know,” he said Friday.
Fencing is generally in short supply, Hunter said.
“It’s one of those things, when you need it, you generally need it within the next 15 minutes. Generally, you’ve got public safety involved,” he said.
“We use it all over the place. It could be used for a myriad of different projects.”
In taking it, “we really didn’t give it a whole lot of thought,” he added.
“We’ve got to leverage every piece of equipment and material we have.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected]