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Amarilla house grandfathered in with safety hazards

The Amarilla House of Pine River is “grandfathered in” and exempt from certain safety codes because of the age of the building and the business, the Pine River City Council learned Tuesday, March 11.

In February, the council reviewed what appeared to be hazards rendering the basement apartments of the building uninhabitable according to current safety codes. These included rooms with windows that did not meet egress requirements for size or height from the floor. At that meeting, city building inspector Jeff Melberg said some rooms did not have working smoke detectors and some smoke detectors were installed in the 1960s.

The findings revealed at the February council meeting resulted in the basement apartments being temporarily vacated. However, Melberg informed the city March 11 that the facility was allowed by state law to continue normal operation without updating windows because the building hasn’t changed use since before the laws were enacted. Melberg presented the council with sworn affidavits to prove that the building did qualify for exemption.

Ken Peters, owner of the Amarilla House, said all the rooms do have smoke detectors. The residents who lived in the basement apartments before the findings have returned.

“The county is fine knowing that these residents are placed in, even though you are grandfathered in, in unsafe living conditions?” asked council member Tamara Hansen.

“Yes. The county is all for us. The state inspector, we had inspected by the Department of Health, and they do at least a yearly inspection. We’ve always done real well on it. They have no problems ... He’s (the inspector) all for us. He thinks we’re one of the better units that he inspects,” said Peters.

City Attorney Ted Lundrigan recommended the state fire marshal tour the facility.

“Compliance with a building code does not necessarily mean that in the eyes of a trained fire professional that the residence is safe for either a fireman or residents. In the best of all possible worlds, I would like the state fire marshal to look the place over,” Lundrigan said.

He also recommended that the city make a clear record of the inspections and efforts on the city’s part to show it has not been negligent in the case of a fire. The council agreed.

The council recognized the Amarilla House’s exemption and dropped the matter.

In other business, the council:

• Agreed to move ahead with construction of a city website using a free template.

• Heard that Ryan Nelson of Jr’s No. 19 would like to hold another Cars-n-Cue May 3 and would like approval for street closures for the cookoff competition, a beer garden, a car show and a street dance. The council approved his request after some discussion.

• Learned from Mike Hansen, Pine River public works executive director, that the city could possibly save money in thawing utility lines during future winters if it buys the equipment to thaw lines, rather than hiring others.

• Approved Pine River City Cleanup days May 20 and 21. Hansen recommended not including small batteries on the list of accepted items, but only accepting car batteries.

• Discussed the possibility of seeking additional advertisers at the Pine River ice rink. The council also discussed the possibility of installing a cement pad in the future.

Travis Grimler can be reached at Follow him at and on Twitter @PEJ_Travis.