The cost to the city for demolishing blighted structures could go up significantly because of federal requirements for mitigating the effects of lead-based paint and asbestos.
The Mobile City Council, during its Tuesday meeting, voted to approve four contracts to demolish condemned structures found to have lead-based paint. The four contracts — for homes at 854 Marine St., 7238 Ninth St., 962 Sunset Ave. and 716 Shannon St. — are split between two companies, NuVision Service and Caribbean Design LLC, and range from $8,800 to $9,900.
City spokesman George Talbot said adherence to Environmental Protection Agency guidelines for asbestos and lead-based paint mitigation will, on average, raise the cost of demolition from about $3,500 to approximately $10,000 for a two-story structure because of the required testing, inspection and landfill costs. However, Talbot said, there are things the city can do to lower the cost.
It is unknown how many of the city’s blighted structures will be affected, as Talbot said the entire number of properties is unknown.
The team hired as part of a Bloomberg Innovation grant awarded to the city in late 2014 has found 1,256 abandoned, blighted properties in the city, but as Jeff Carter, Bloomberg I-Team project manager, said, they have not yet done a survey to determine how many of those structures need to be demolished.
“We believe the number of demolitions is much lower,” he said.
Carter said the price increase related to demolition of structures affected by the lead-based paint or asbestos mitigation procedures will not affect the number of homes the I-Team surveys.
Many of the homes in Mobile fit one profile because they were built in the 1940s and 1950s when there was a period of huge growth in the city and a large number of homes were constructed, Carter said. Lead-based paint was banned in the late 1970s.
Despite the increased cost for some, Talbot said, Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration remains committed to fighting blight.
“We’re going to clear them as fast as we can,” Talbot said. “There are only so many dollars we can spend, but it doesn’t change our commitment.”
Work on the four demolitions cited could start as soon as two days after the contracts are approved and would take roughly seven days to complete.
Land bank management
In addition to the 1,256 vacant, blighted structures, the Bloomberg I-team found more than 6,000 vacant lots through city-wide surveys. To help the I-Team and the city’s legal department deal with issues involving these properties, the City Council last week approved a professional services agreement with the Center for Community Progress, not to exceed $32,000. The agreement will allow the Center for Community Progress to review local ordinances dealing with abandoned property, I-Team Executive Director Joan Dunlap wrote in a statement.
“The mayor’s office and the City Council, through their passage of the resolution this week, give their full support to addressing inconsistencies and gaps in our local ordinances, many of which are out of date and have been amended over the years in ways that haven’t resulted in clear, enforceable laws on the books,” she wrote. “Center for Community Progress will be making recommendations, and the City Council and state legislature will have an opportunity to receive and weigh in on those recommendations.”
The center will make recommendations based on best practices used in other cities, according to Dunlap.
“We expect to have the recommendations some time this spring,” she wrote.
The on-site consultant for the project will be Frank Alexander, a law professor at Emory University and co-founder of the center, Dunlap wrote.
“(Alexander) has ties to the Gulf Coast and is excited to be able to come work with Mobile on a consulting basis,” she wrote.
Barricaded street debate
A comment from Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson about the safety precautions taken in a neighborhoods beset by several recent burglaries led to a debate among councilors during Tuesday’s meeting.
Stimpson informed the council and public that the administration had placed a temporary barricade on a street used for cut-through traffic in the Rosswood neighborhood as a way to stem a rash of burglaries over the last two weeks or so. In fact, Stimpson’s Chief of Staff Colby Cooper said the neighborhood had experienced eight to 10 burglaries over the last two weeks. Cooper said neighbors hope to replace the barricade once they raise the money needed for a permanent gate.
Shortly after Stimpson finished his comments, Councilman Fred Richardson said he was against the closing of access to any public street and would not support the measure when it came up to council for a future vote.
“It’s not a crime fighting strategy,” he said. “Putting up a piece of iron does not catch any criminal.”
Instead, Richardson said, it inconveniences residents.
Councilman C.J. Small and Councilman Levon Manzie agreed with Richardson. Manzie said an affirmative vote for the action would open Pandora’s Box and every neighborhood would want a gate limiting access to traffic.
“There’s crime activity in every neighborhood and every community would want a gate,” Manzie said. “We’d go from the Azalea City and the Port City to gate city.”
Small said he understood from a resident in a television interview that most of break-ins were the result of foot traffic and a gate on the street wouldn’t stop foot traffic.
Councilwoman Bess Rich said she favored any plan that might help keep residents in Mobile safe and protect neighborhoods.
“I welcome the chance to see this happen throughout Mobile,” she said. “I want to thank the administration for opening and embracing this project.”
Councilman Joel Daves, who represents the neighborhood, said it was important to let neighborhoods control their own destiny. He said the street in question was a neighborhood street that drivers take to avoid the intersection at Cottage Hill Road.
“I support the mayor’s and chief’s work to allow the neighborhood to control its own destiny,” Daves said.
CMT coal issue
Cooper, Marine and Timberlands storage of coal at its dry cargo facility on the Mobile River could come up for further council review, if Rich has her way.
Jemison Street resident Herb Wagner questioned whether the capacity for the facility had even been defined when councilors voted to deny a previous appeal of the Planning Commission’s initial decision to allow the storage, and after hearing those comments, Rich implored her colleagues to reconsider.
At issue is whether CMT is permitted by the Planning Commission to store between 460,000 to 500,000 tons, or up to 1.3 million tons of coal at the facility. After saying at the Jan. 5 Council meeting that he interpreted the commission’s intent to mean a capacity of less than 1 million tons, Planner Richard Olsen said Tuesday that based on discussion among commission members more recently, capacity could be set based on CMT’s historic footprint and not tonnage.
Wagner was also concerned that there was no commission vote, or public input to that effect.
Since Rich was on the losing side of the Jan. 5 vote, she cannot put the item back on the agenda. She asked that her fellow councilors on the prevailing side bring the issue back up.
Stephen Harvey, an attorney for CMT, has yet to return calls for comment on this report.
In other business, the council approved an $89,700 contract with Aeiker Construction for drainage improvements at Hank Aaron Stadium. Rich said she didn’t vote for the proposal because the BayBears are still behind on rent on the city-owned stadium, only having paid one quarter’s worth of rent in two years. During a pre-conference meeting, Stimpson Chief of Staff Colby Cooper said the BayBears’ next quarter of rent would be due by the end of March.
Rich also asked members of the administration to clarify whether the Southern League baseball team was responsible for paying for electricity at the stadium.
The council approved a $68,858 contract with Farnell Heating and Air Conditioning for replacement of the air conditioning unit at the Fort Conde welcome center downtown. During a pre-conference meeting, Rich asked for more specifics on a plan that would see the center moved and the fort come under the control of the History Museum of Mobile.
Cooper said the administration wasn’t yet ready to release details on the move, but did confirm it was planned. Rich said more than $500,000 has been spent in recent years on the fort’s welcome center and she “didn’t know what the use would be.”
The council held over a vote on a $19,000 emergency contract with Ben M. Radcliff for parking deck shoring, following an accident.
Brad Christensen, director of real estate asset management, said a Port City Rental truck drove up the ramp to the second level of the parking deck, where trucks normally load and unload, when its top hit a support structure. Christensen compared shoring to scaffolding that is put in place until permanent repairs can be completed. He said repairs to the structure began this week and would be completed by Feb. 5.