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DDRA chairman grilled over abatement at Saints Apartments - Dothan Eagle: News

DDRA chairman grilled over abatement at Saints Apartments

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Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2013 5:40 pm

Members of Dothan’s Historical Preservation Commission grilled the chairman of the Dothan Downtown Redevelopment Authority on Thursday about the process it used in removing asbestos from a newly-purchased downtown building.

The DDRA purchased the Saints Apartments building on Powell Street Feb. 28 and hired a company to perform exterior asbestos abatement in April. It should have received prior approval for the abatement from the Historical Preservation Commission because the building is located in Dothan’s Historic District and the abatement changes the façade of the building.

DDRA chairman Jimmy Grant said failing to seek prior approval was a mistake and asked for “after the fact” approval Thursday. The HPC failed to grant approval after the request died for lack of a motion. At least three of the members expressed serious concern about the abatement.

“There are over a thousand law firms foaming at the mouth waiting to lock their jaws on a situation like this,” HPC chairman Ed Vaughn said. “This is a serious, serious issue.”

HPC member Sam Newton questioned the abatement process itself and asked Grant to provide documentation to show it was done appropriately.

“Nothing seems to have been done correctly on this,” Newton said.

Vaughn expressed concerns about units of the complex possibly being occupied when the abatement took place.

DDRA executive director Jansen Tidmore hired Tuscaloosa firm Alabama Environmental Inc. to perform the abatement. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management received a complaint about the abatement and sent an investigator to inspect the abatement.

Ron Gore, Air Division Chief for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, said Alabama Environmental, Inc. took all necessary steps in performing an external asbestos abatement at Saints Apartments.

“Everything was done that should have been done and the contractor went out of his way to provide us with a courtesy notification,” Gore told the Dothan Eagle last month.

Gore said Garry Pearson of Alabama Environmental, Inc., provided a courtesy notification to ADEM on April 5. Gore said prior notification was not required. The abatement occurred April 9.

Newton and board member Mark Pepe said the HPC had not been given any substantial documentation to alleviate their concerns.

“What I want to know is who is going to be the liable culprit when it comes down to all these lawsuits?” Pepe asked.

Grant said he was not prepared to answer all of the questions raised by the HPC members. He said he would try to find the information the members are seeking.

“We made a mistake in not notifying the HPC. We have said it. We said it over and over. We’re not perfect. It probably won’t be our last mistake. The fellow I talked to at ADEM said the group that did the abatement was highly qualified and knew what they were doing,” Grant said.

With the adjournment of Thursday’s meeting, the DDRA now owns a downtown building with an exterior asbestos abatement that has not been approved.

“What can they do, go dig through the landfill and put the asbestos back on?” HPC member Wes Grant asked.

The purchase price of the building was $194,780, with $60,000 coming from the DDRA, $40,000 from nearby Five Star Credit Union and approximately $100,000 from the Houston County Commission. The County wants to tear the building down and use the space for additional parking, although no official plans have been finalized. The HPC also expressed concerns about whether HPC regulations allow the building to be demolished.

Dothan Planning Director Todd McDonald said HPC by-laws may allow the DDRA to re-apply for an asbestos abatement approval, but said he would have to study the by-laws further to make a final determination. If it can’t re-apply, the DDRA’s only recourse may be appealing the HPC’s action to Houston County Circuit Court.

“I don’t know what happens now,” Grant said.