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Sinnott House repairs open Old Town sidewalk

Herb shop owner happy with return of area’s foot traffic
by: Christopher Onstott The sidewalk on Northwest Couch Street between Third and Fourth avenues is open. Scaffolding protects pedestrians from falling plaster.

Kecia Nathan knows she’s got her hands full, but she’s making progress. Nathan is the lead owner of the historic Old Town property at the corner of Northwest Third Avenue and Couch Street, which she and partners bought last summer for $400,000. Like many Old Town buildings, Nathan’s Sinnott House has problems. The most immediate of those is the plaster that falls off the building’s exterior to the sidewalk below. The Portland Bureau of Development Services, concerned some passersby might get brained by falling plaster, has had the Couch Street sidewalk in front of the Sinnott closed for about two years. The bureau has fined the building’s owners for neglecting the work, starting at $500 a month, but more recently up to $1,200 a month. Caught in the crossfire was Morteza Aleali, who owns the only business on the Sinnott House’s side of Northwest Couch Street, an herb and acupuncture shop. In a January Tribune story, Aleali complained about the decline in his business since the sidewalk had been closed. The good news is that in April the sidewalk was reopened, with scaffolding holding wooden planks to protect pedestrians from falling plaster. The temporary solution is enough to stop more fines from being levied through the end of October, according to Ed Marihart, bureau of development services interim program manger. Nathan needs to come up with a more permanent solution to the building’s problems by then, Marihart says. Nathan says she will do just that. Engineering plans are nearly completed for repairs to the outside of the building, including seismic upgrades for the Sinnott House’s roof. The work, which Nathan says will cost more than $100,000, is scheduled to begin late this summer. When it’s done, the scaffolding will be removed. Nathan’s long-term concern is the interior work needed on the Sinnott House, which she says will cost “millions.” Her problem is shared by a number of owners of vacant Old Town historic buildings. “We’re just trying to keep a historic building intact,” Nathan says. Meanwhile, Aleali is pleased to see people walking by his store again. “As far as I’m concerned, the problem has been solved,” he says.