Note: This story was last updated at 2:40 p.m.
City officials have deemed a building housing five businesses in central Oak Ridge to be deteriorated and hazardous, and a municipal board has given a longtime dry cleaner located in the small shopping center on Tyrone Road 10 days to vacate.
Meanwhile, a few other businesses also located there—a thrift store, wig shop, and Mexican grocery—have been given 60 days to come up with a plan of action outlining what can be done to stabilize the building.
The order from the Oak Ridge Board of Building and Housing Code Appeals does not affect the Magic Wok, but it does apply to the restaurant’s food preparation and overflow dining areas.
The partially occupied 50,000-square-feet building is at 123 and 135 E. Tyrone Road, just north of Oak Ridge Turnpike near Jackson Square. It includes Classic Cleaners, Mia’s Gift Shop and Accessories, the New 2 U Thrift Store, and Tienda Nony International Marketplace. The Magic Wok diner is detached from the building and is not affected by the order, which was unanimously approved last Thursday.
The Board of Building and Housing Code Appeals could consider a demolition order at its April meeting, depending upon what actions the owner takes to repair the building conditions, which are now deemed substandard. The property is owned by Ma Shiu-Yen Wang and Ta-Shun Etal, according to state records.
In a Feb. 19 memo to the board, the city staff said a Jan. 14 walk-through by the Oak Ridge Fire Department and Codes Enforcement confirmed that “there continues to be several very serious code violations and structural issues that have become even more dangerous since our previous building survey on March 15, 2013.”
Among the conditions cited by the staff:
- The structure’s disrepair creates life-safety issues and environmentally hazardous conditions.
- The building lacks adequate exits for fires or panic situations.
- The required fire sprinkler system is out of service due to a catastrophic failure.
- The roof and interior building systems throughout have remained insufficiently maintained for several years.
- The structure is decayed to the point that portions of the building may fall and injure people on or off the property.
Earlier this week, Oak Ridge Community Development Director Kathryn Baldwin said structural members of the building’s roof have deteriorated and show signs of failure; there are roof leaks over the entire building; interior surfaces are unsanitary and there is excessive water damage and mold; the plumbing system is not operational; heating units, ductwork, and electrical systems are damaged; and the fire sprinkler system is inoperable and has fallen on the floor.
Baldwin said there is a fairly large hole in the roof of Classic Cleaners, and gravel from the roof is starting to fall inside the business, posing a life-safety issue.
“We felt like it was an emergency situation,” Baldwin said.
Four-by-fours are holding up the roof in unoccupied parts of the building, she said.
A recycler that was in the building has already moved out, Baldwin said.
The staff recommended the entire building be declared unfit for human occupation or use, and municipal employees said the dry cleaner ought to be vacated in 10 days and the other businesses within 60.
The staff said 40 percent of the overall structure was deemed unsafe for human occupation or use in November 1997, and a city walk-through the following month resulted in a space-by-space account of violations that were reported to the owners by letter in February 1998.
“To date, there appears to have been no substantial building or fire safety improvements in accordance with adopted building or fire code requirements over the past 17 years,” according to the Feb. 19 memo from city employees Denny Boss, Josh Waldo, and Matt Widner.
Baldwin said people might not be happy about the board’s decision last week, but board members had few options.
“Due to the extreme safety concerns, the board felt they had no choice,” Baldwin said.
In interviews Wednesday, several of the business owners at the shopping center said they didn’t know what they would do next.
“They’ve put me out on the bread line,” said Jean Young, owner of Classic Cleaners, which occupies the part of the building that once housed a 24-hour laundry and was completed in 1944, when Oak Ridge was engaged in a top-secret national effort to build the world’s first atomic weapons.
Young said the building, a portion of which also once housed The Oak Ridger newspaper, is decrepit, and she alleged the owners wouldn’t upgrade it. She said she has fashioned a hammock made of plastic and set it up under the hole in the roof to catch rainwater and funnel it into a sink in the back of her shop.
Oak Ridge Today observed water dripping from the hole in the roof on Wednesday—a dry, sunny day—and gravel on the floor. The hole is visible in aerial photos, and wood in the ceiling near the hole appears to be bowed downward.
Young said the roof does more than leak—at times, it rains inside her business. Still, she said she is not concerned about it collapsing.
“We just don’t go back in that area,” Young said. “The building is not going to fall down around my ears.”
Young has owned Classic Cleaners for 37 years, and she said she needs more time to remove all the cleaning equipment—including a washer, compressor, and boiler—as well as racks and stacks of clothes left by customers.
“I can’t do it in 10 days,” Young said. “It’s virtually impossible.”
Mia Chon of Mia’s Gift Shop said she may have to move out after 18 years in business, but she is hopeful that her landlords can reserve a space for her in the building. She said the family has been spending money on the building and working hard, and she wants the city to work with them.
A Magic Wok representative who identified herself as a restaurant owner declined to give her name or comment on Thursday.
“I don’t want to be in the news,” the woman said.
See the city staff’s photos of the building’s interior here: Tyrone Road Building Photos. Most of the photos were taken inside the unoccupied part of the building, but some were taken inside the dry cleaner.
More information will be added as it becomes available.