A demolition permit was issued for the historic downtown 4th Avenue Theatre last month after Anchorage's building board ruled that city officials, citing historic preservation questions, erred in delaying the permit.
In a 2-1 vote at a December hearing, the Board of Building Regulation Examiners and Appeals agreed last month with the theater's owners, Peach Investments LLC, which said the city didn't have grounds to deny the permit.
Described by the theater's owners as needed for routine maintenance, the demolition permit immediately became tangled up in a city effort to preserve historic buildings.
City officials argued that Peach was never actually denied a permit, but that both parties agreed on Oct. 17 to research whether the building carried a conservation easement that would block any future owner from tearing it down. City attorneys later said it appeared the $300,000 the city paid for a conservation easement in 1985 was eliminated by a 1991 foreclosure — a point raised in the written appeal by Peach Investments to say the permit should have been issued.
Kristine Bunnell, the city's historic building officer, said she never believed Peach Investments intended to demolish the building. But she said that all historic properties listed on official registers have now been flagged in the city's permit management computer system so a consultation would be triggered whenever an owner applied to demolish or change it.
In the meantime, the Anchorage Assembly is weighing whether to adopt a "demolition delay" ordinance that would provide for a community dialogue before a historic building is torn down. The ordinance was fast-tracked in response to Peach Investments seeking the demolition permit for the theater.
Joe Fang, whose family owns Peach Investments, said at a December work session with the Assembly that he wanted to "assure everybody … we have no intention of demolishing the theater." He said the company needed the permit to replace a boiler, which he said would require demolishing some parts of the building's interior.
But he also said that if the city ordered Peach Investments to bring the theater "up to code," the company would demolish it — a reference to city enforcement action taken in September against another Peach Investments property, the derelict Northern Lights Inn in Midtown.
"If you don't want me to demolish it, you've got to allow me the flexibility or at least the freedom to do what is necessary to preserve the building inside," Fang said.
Bunnell said the city's Historic Preservation Commission plans to meet with Fang's family this month to discuss a plan for preserving the theater.
Peach Investments got the demolition permit Dec. 19, according to Tana Klunder, assistant to the deputy director of the building department. According to the building board's written decision, the permit was backdated to Oct. 17, when the company first requested the permit.