At first listen, the $1.47 million in repairs needed to restore the potentially historic Truax House in Bankers Hill sounded like a good reason why the city should sell the property. After all, the estimated repairs amount to well over half of the $2.47 million for which the city will sell the property.
But according to a July 2014 estimate obtained by the Reader, the inspector who arrived at the $1.47 million didn't step inside the house during the inspection — nor was any extensive study of the exterior walls or foundation conducted.
"Due to access restrictions to this leased residential facility, only a limited street side assessment was performed and no entry to the site or building was made," reads the inspection report. "Facility condition assessment information detailed in this report is based on a visual assessment of the visible building and site systems as observed from the street side.
"The site...is generally deemed to be adequate for its current use. The parking lot is in poor condition. Pedestrian paving is original and in fair condition. The site landscaping is mature and in good condition. In general the site grading is adequate."
The inspector didn’t include a tally to show how the $1.47 million estimate was reached.
Despite the dubious assessment, on February 10, the City's Smart Growth and Land Use Committee moved one step closer to selling the two adjoining properties located at the southwestern edge of Maple Canyon.
The decision came amid vehement opposition from residents who have spent several months lobbying their city-council representative, Todd Gloria, to oppose the sale of the the property and dedicate the land as open space in order to create an access point to popular walking trails in the canyon. In addition, residents began requesting that instead of selling, the city should preserve one of two homes on the properties, known as the Truax House.
Built in 1910, the Truax House was named after Dr. A. Brad Truax, a doctor who opened his doors to dying and homeless AIDS patients in the late 1980s, at a time when the newly discovered AIDS disease was ravaging communities throughout the country. Dr. Truax, also an AIDS patient, died in 1988. The Truax House remained as an AIDS hospice until 2007. It was then turned over to Father Joe’s Villages nonprofit as a rehab center.
In recent years, the home was abandoned. Beginning in 2007, the city took the first steps toward potentially selling the property.
However, it was the latest push to sell that caused community members to speak out against the sale. They have called on councilmember Gloria to act on their behalf and keep the property. In response to their complaints, during the February 10 Smart Growth and Land Use Committee meeting, Gloria proposed that the city move forward with the sale after a historical survey is conducted on the house.
But news of the inadequate inspection has rekindled the controversy for neighbors. Some residents accuse the city of inflating the repairs in order to show cause for selling.
As evidence, community members are using a more thorough estimate of the house conducted in 2012. According to the estimate, also obtained by the Reader, the cost to repair the Truax House was $268,781, a sharp disparity between the more recent $1.47 million figure.
"That [$1.47 million] number is ridiculous. I was told it would take closer to $300,000 to make it usable for, say, a nonprofit," says one resident and current tenant who wished to remain anonymous. "A quick walk-around isn't the way to get an accurate figure. I don't even know who has been coming up with these estimates. The whole thing is a mess."
Leo Wilson, former chair of the Uptown Planning Group, had some stronger words in response to the estimate.
"You have to be freaking kidding me," Wilson wrote in an email. "It is not an assessment. It is a guess. And, a bad one at that."
In a February 16 statement, councilmember Gloria repeated his pledge to conduct a historical study on the house before the sale is made.
“The $1.47 million dollar figure for repairs at the Truax House presented at the Smart Growth and Land Use Committee was based on a street assessment, however, staff from the City’s Real Estate Assets Department will be conducting a full inspection later this month," reads a February 16 statement from Gloria. "They will provide the council with a revised assessment based on actual conditions in the facility. As I made clear in my motion to forward the proposal to the full city council, a Historic Resources Survey must be completed before the property is sold."
(corrected 2/18, 7:50 a.m.)