More Than Year After Closure, Washington Wants Apartment Building Cleaned Up

WASHINGTON, Iowa - The Goncho Apartments building sits on a busy stretch of Washington, just north of the town square. A grocery store is across the street, assuring that people still see this 19th-century apartment building that has been closed for more than a year.

"We hope that can be refurbished and made into something useful and it has been an eyesore for a long time," said Deran DeLong, chair of the city's hearing review panel. DeLong spoke after an hour-long meeting with other city leaders and Goncho co-owner Jared Miller at Washington City Hall.

Miller had requested the meeting to appeal an earlier ruling that the Goncho was a "dangerous building". The commission voted 3-0 on Friday to uphold the earlier ruling.

"I didn't expect them not to find it dangerous," Miller said after the meeting.

Yet the talks between Miller and city leaders was not contentious as both appeared to be working towards a solution to clean up the three-story building and remove any meth residue.

In December 2012, the city found that Apartment 3D had meth residue inside of it and that "results were 50-90 (times) higher than what it considered safe". Ultimately, five of the 16 units were discovered to have meth residue within. On January 17, 2013, Washington police officers entered the building to secure it and residents from the 16 units were removed from the property. At the time, many were upset that they were unable to go back inside to retrieve personal items.

"We've had people go in and individuals who weren't in the five contaminated apartments who wanted their stuff out, we've gone in and gotten in," Miller said on Friday.

City documents show much of 2013 was spent in correspondence between the two sides leading up to Friday's meeting. A letter marked January 30, 2014 sent by Building and Zoning Official Steven Donnolly said the city has "ordered that the premises and structures be vacated forthwith and not reoccupied until the required repairs, improvements or remediation of the dangerous conditions have been completed, inspected and approved."

What is the next step for this old building? Miller said he is actively looking for a buyer.

"We would like to sell it to someone and have them go and clean it up and use it," said Miller. "There's nothing structurally wrong with it."
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