• December 22, 2014

19 houses set for demolition; owners call city biased

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Posted: Friday, December 21, 2012 3:09 pm | Updated: 9:07 am, Fri Dec 28, 2012.

The Harker Heights City Council on Tuesday awarded a contract for demolition of 19 wood-frame structures on Lynn Drive in northwest Harker Heights that were deemed unsafe, substandard and dangerous by the city’s Building Standards Commission.

“They’re dangerous structures, (due to) lack of maintenance — foundations, electrical, plumbing, just all substandard,” said Steve Philen, a building official.

The neighborhood has been a thorn of contention for Fred Morris, planning and development director, since he took over the position in October 2011. When City Manager Steve Carpenter took him on a tour of the city, their first stop was Lynn Drive.

“I said, ‘Oh my gosh this is horrible, how does this exist in your town?’” Morris said.

The thorn deepened when Philen, a former firefighter, became a building official for the city and pointed out to Morris one of Lynn Drive’s vacant structures.

“He said, ‘I pulled a dead, burned baby out of that lot.’ One of those units caught on fire and killed a little child, and as a fireman he had to deal with that. It’s about health and safety and welfare,” Morris said.

The city began inspecting the vacant houses in March. In August, they took their findings to the Building Standards Commission, which ordered the property owners, Buttross Properties of Austin, to rehabilitate or demolish the buildings within 90 days.

Morris met with Buttross Properties at least 10 times over the past year to discuss the Lynn Drive problems, he said. While some remodeling was done to a few of the houses, the property owners failed to take the steps necessary to save them from demolition within the commission’s time frame, according to the city.

“They were required to submit to us a plan that would address how they would address the entire problem, not just one unit,” Morris said. “The assumption was — and we had this verified by our city attorney — that because they were all on the same property, they were installed at the same time and the same age, that the conditions carried to all the units.”

Philen also recently inspected the dozen Lynn Drive houses that have tenants. Although he would not reveal the results of those inspections, he said those findings would be brought to the Buildings Standards Commission in January or February.

“I’ve done the inspections, so that’s all I can say right now,” Philen said. “It’s still a life and health issue, and I think it’s worse because the people live in it.”

David Buttross said Thursday that his company was taking steps to repair the homes and that they did submit a rehabilitation plan to the city. However, Morris said the city never received the plan.

Buttross also accused the city of being biased against minorities and people with low incomes, saying that is the true reason the houses are being demolished.

“We’ve done everything they have asked for … they don’t want minorities to own homes in Harker Heights, because they’re known for being rich, white folk,” he said.

Carpenter denied the accusation. He said the city has followed all legal avenues to make Buttross bring the Lynn Drive properties up to safety standards and gave them plenty of opportunity to save the houses.

“We’ve been working on this since January,” he said.

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