Eric Flowers

Owners of the Bend crane shed property failed to get a required demolition permit before demolishing the historic building after dark Thursday night.

Bend Building Division Manager Robert Mathias said Friday morning that the city did not give Crown Investment Group permission to take down the nearly 70-year-old building, which served as a vast lumber storage area during the town's timber heyday. He ordered all cleanup work on the site halted Friday.

”I drove by it this morning and I just about wrecked my truck,” Mathias said. ”It was a complete shock to me because I knew we were in negotiations to try to come up with a remedy for this situation.”

Mathias said he didn't know what type of penalty the city might seek against Crown for the infraction.

He will meet Monday with city attorneys to discuss options.

Several city officials said the maximum fine for tearing down the building is $500. Crown has made its intentions for the building well known for months.

The company announced in December it wanted to raze the crane shed and replace it with a large-mixed-use building that incorporated some of the crane shed's design elements.

After failing to win the permit from the county Historic Landmarks Commission, the company filed a lawsuit earlier this month asking a judge to force the city to issue a demolition permit for the building.

One of the most visible reminders of the thriving sawmills that once set on the banks of the Deschutes River in Bend, the building was designated a local historical landmark.

On the advice of the city attorney's office, city councilors voted Wednesday to settle a lawsuit by issuing a demolition permit. In exchange Crown agreed not to seek reimbursement for its attorney costs and an opportunity for the city to photograph and otherwise document the crane shed building before it was demolished.

Several city councilors said Friday that they were outraged to find that Crown had moved forward with the demolition without a permit.

”I'm so angry. I feel the council was misled and the trust we had placed in the developer was violated,” said Councilor Linda Johnson, who had voted to settle the lawsuit with Crown.

Johnson said Friday that she would have voted to fight Crown in court had she known company's intention to demolish the building without any further negotiation.

”We never even had a conversation,” she said. ”As soon as the meeting was over they must have gone immediately into planning the demolition.”

Crown partner John Pewther said he doesn't see it the same way.

Pewther, who also sits on the Redmond Planning Commission, said the company got all the permission it needed from the council Wednesday night.

In an interview Friday, he called the demolition permit a ”formality.”

He said he and his partners needed to tear the building down because it presented a hazard to the public and a liability for owners.

”The safety concerns were something that were right up top,” Pewther said. ”If the building had fallen over, we would be liable. And there were substantial safety violations in the building. It was a dangerous building.”

It's not the first hazardous building that Pewther has dealt with.

Pewther purchased Redmond's former city hall building and a dilapidated apartment building in 2002 under an agreement with the city that he would demolish the buildings and redevelop the site.

But it wasn't until city officials gave Pewther and his company Whistler, LLC, a 60-day deadline earlier this year that he brought the buildings down, roughly 16 months after purchasing the old city hall. In the interim the apartment building had become a popular spot for transients and a problem for emergency officials who responded to three fires at the property, Redmond city officials said earlier this year.

In Bend, crane shed supporters said they were dismayed at the swift destruction of a beloved building. Those supporters had submitted some 90 letters to the landmarks commission and recently produced a Web site and bumper stickers advocating that the community ”Save Big Red.”

”We're all in mourning. I had a hard time sleeping last night,” said Scott Gilbride, a local architect who worked on efforts to preserve the crane shed.

Gilbride said he got a call last night about the shed coming down and drove by only to find the building leveled.

”In my book it was the most important historic building in town and it's gone,” he said.

Gilbride blames the city council for sealing the shed's fate Wednesday night by voting to settle the lawsuit instead of fighting it.

”I think the city council made a very rash decision,” Gilbride said. ”To walk away from the legal fight for $15,000 or $20,000 is absurd. The city throws that kind of money around every day for traffic studies and every other imaginable thing. To not spend it to save this historic building is wrong.”

Landmarks Commission member Derek Stevens agreed. ”I think the city of Bend got hoodwinked, for lack of a better word,” Stevens said.

He disagreed with the city attorney's opinion that the landmarks commission and council cannot deny a demolition permit because of a site's historic value.

If that is the case, said Stevens, then every single historic property in Bend is in potential danger.

”This needed its day in court to be cleared up and it still needs to be cleared up,” he said.

Mayor Oran Teater said he stands by the decision to settle the lawsuit based on the advice of city counsel. But Teater condemned the demolition without the city's approval.

”I think it was inevitable that the building was coming down,” Teater said. ”But having somebody circumvent the rules bothers me a lot.”

”I'm not a happy camper,” Teater said.

Councilor John Hummel voted to fight the lawsuit. He favors punishing the developers to the full extent of local and state law.

”I think it is outrageous and appalling what the owners did,” he said.

City attorney Jim Forbes said there may be other options open to the city beyond the $500 fine but did not want to discuss them Friday.

He said his office hadn't ruled out negotiating a settlement prior to the demolition that would have saved the crane shed by allowing it to be sold to another developer.

At least one other builder had expressed interest in the property. Todd Taylor said he recently gave Crown an offer to sell the property for more than it had paid.

Taylor said there is no guarantee that he would have been able to save the building, though.

Forbes said the city would have tried to bring Taylor or any other willing buyer into the settlement negotiations.

”I was shocked when I woke up this morning and saw this picture (of the demolition) in the paper. That was the last thing on my mind that might happen,” Forbes said.

Eric Flowers can be reached at 541-383-0323 or eflowers@bendbulletin.com .

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