A partially completed 41-unit Lake Merritt condo complex where a four-alarm fire was reported in the early morning hours yesterday is still smoldering today, and burning questions remain. Per NBC Bay Area, Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents have been called in to Oakland's 317 Lester Avenue in order to assist firefighters in their search for what may have started the fire, and sources to ABC 7 are pointing to ongoing litigation against the property owner, Athan Magganas, whose $6 million project was reportedly 80 percent completed.
Hillary Jacobs, a former tenant, tells the latter news channel that she and others have sued Magganas for damages and injunctive release, claiming that construction had begun while residents were still in the original building at the address and that digging exposed gas lines and damaged the foundation of their home at that time. Construction workers on the new project used electricity from the old building and charged the existing occupant, the suit contends. That situation makes yesterday's fire "highly suspicious" in the words of Jacobs's attorney.
The large development at 317 Lester has been hotly contested for some time. "They fought for years trying to stop this," neighbor April Hudson tells ABC 7. "I remember my mother signed petitions and all that trying to stop them from making this massive apartment building."
Natalie Cone, another neighbor, tells NBC Bay Area that the previous building's occupants were "kicked out" to make way for the project. "A house full of painters, performance artists, people who had deep roots in the community, and they were kicked out of that place," Cone put it.
ABC 7 also reports that two people working security for the new, under-construction building were living in its garage, but the City of Oakland says no permit for occupancy had been issued. Speaking to that channel, Peter Magganas, son of building owner Athan Magganas, calls the fire "a big waste" and describes it as "very sad."
Athan Magganas reiterated that sentiment to the Business Times. "It’s a tragedy," he said. "We would like to say, we’re going to go back and redo it. I hope that we can... but I don’t know what we’re faced with here."