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Downtown Olympia business owner defends wall as solution to defecation problem

Anne Buck builds a wall in downtown Olympia

The city says business owner Anne Buck did not seek the proper permits or inspections to erect a wall in the entryway of her business, which is located in a historic building on Fifth Avenue in downtown Olympia.
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The city says business owner Anne Buck did not seek the proper permits or inspections to erect a wall in the entryway of her business, which is located in a historic building on Fifth Avenue in downtown Olympia.

Downtown Olympia business owner Anne Buck refuses to tear down this wall.

Frustrated by people sleeping, littering and defecating in the entryway of her business, Buck hired a contractor last weekend to erect a wood lattice wall across the alcove of her building at 209 Fifth Ave. SE.

A door in the middle of the wall remains open during the day. Perched above the entrance is a sign that reads “Buck Tower,” which is a joking reference to the president’s namesake skyscraper in New York City.

So far, the new wall seems to be working. The owner of Buck’s Fifth Avenue spice shop said her tenants no longer need to step over sleepers, debris or human waste in the alcove — things that can create a negative perception and discourage customers from coming downtown.

“I’m just trying very hard to run a business,” she said. “It’s hard when there are people and hypodermic needles and poop and pee all over the place when you walk into work.”

However, her improvised solution to a common downtown problem has run into a wall of its own. The city reports that the structure was built without a permit or inspection — and needs to come down in two weeks.

Buck’s building is in a national historic district, and any physical changes must go through a design review process, said city spokesperson Kellie Purce Braseth. Another concern is that the door on Buck’s wall lacks “panic hardware” for people who need to exit in case of an emergency, such as a fire.

Braseth said the city has mailed a notice of violation to Buck, who has two weeks to either remove the wall or obtain a permit to build a structure within the guidelines for safety and historic preservation.

“The issue is not that Ms. Buck took action to stop the negative activity happening in her alcove,” Braseth told The Olympian. “The bottom line for the city is that unpermitted, uninspected, unreviewed construction happened on a historic downtown building that raises historic preservation and safety concerns for us.”

Buck said she will fight to keep the wall intact.

“It’s helping my problem,” said Buck, who owns the building. “It’s my property and we’re not touching any city property.”

Buck is among the downtown stakeholders and business owners who have urged the city to open more public restrooms at night, either by installing a 24-hour restroom or expanding the hours for existing public restrooms.

To that end, she has raised nearly $4,000 for a new downtown restroom and wants to donate the money to the city once a permanent facility has been installed this summer. A heavy-duty facility called the Portland Loo is slated to be installed in the Artesian Commons Park at Fourth Avenue and Jefferson Street.

“I’m not going to give them any money,” Buck said, “until the toilets are actually flushing.”

In 2016, the city launched a downtown sanitation project that has included the installation of four temporary port-a-potties along with more funding for the Downtown Ambassador Program’s Clean Team, which cleans up an average of three to five “deposits” of human waste daily, according to the city.

One of the port-a-potties is at the Artesian Commons. Last November, the city parks department had a 24-hour count that showed that 111 people used the facility.

The city also will open a 24-hour public restroom on the west side of Percival Landing this summer.

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