HARKER HEIGHTS — The city has once again ordered the demolition of 19 vacant houses on Lynn Drive after postponing the project late last month, leading the property owner, David Buttross, to file an asbestos complaint against the city with the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“I called the state regulators because we didn’t want to lose our houses,” Buttross said Monday afternoon.

City Manager Steve Carpenter said he received a call Monday from TDSHS informing him that the city needed to do asbestos surveys on the properties before moving forward with the demolition.

“Basically, if it was just one house we were tearing down, we would not have to have an asbestos survey,” Carpenter said. “But since the houses are within 660 feet of one another, we have to do (the survey), according to Environmental Protection Agency regulations.”

Carpenter also learned that the city is required to give a 10-day notice of demolition to TDSHS.

“We’re giving the 10-day notice tomorrow and then we’ll get someone to come in and do the asbestos survey during that time,” he said.

The City Council approved a contract for the demolition work Dec. 18, after the building and planning department had worked for nearly a year to get Buttross Properties to bring the Lynn Drive houses up to health and safety standards, said Fred Morris, planning and development director.

The houses were set to be demolished before Christmas, but the city gave Buttross extra time to submit the comprehensive rehabilitation plan for the properties that it had requested and never received.

Morris said Buttross did submit the plan after Christmas, but it was not “accurate enough or specific enough” to meet the city’s needs.

“The floor plan was for some property in Killeen,” Morris said. “We wanted a plan that addressed specific items that were necessary to bring items up to code, mechanical, plumbing, electrical, not a general, broad brush approach at it. (The plan) wasn’t a real heartfelt effort.”

Buttross said Monday that the plan he submitted was indeed comprehensive and that an engineer error caused the floor plans to be labeled Killeen instead of Harker Heights.

He also said the plan included details on electrical and plumbing upgrades, as well as paint, floor coverings, fixtures, countertops and windows.

“I don’t know what else they want,” Buttross said. “All I want to do is save our houses and fix them up.”

As of Monday, the city was corresponding with Buttross only through his attorney, the Ted Smith Law Group in Harker Heights, Morris said. But Buttross said the law firm had recommended he find another lawyer to handle the Lynn Drive conflict.

“He called me at 4 p.m. on Friday and said he couldn’t handle it, and he said I needed to hire another attorney,” Buttross said, referring to Smith. “The problem is he’s buddies with the city. He hired the city manager.”

Attempts made by the Killeen Daily Herald on Monday to reach the Ted Smith Law Group for comment were unsuccessful.

Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for TDSHS, confirmed that the agency was investigating an anonymous complaint made against the city but had no additional details to offer.

“At this point, we don’t have a complete picture of the situation. … We did receive a complaint about this project, so we’re looking into that complaint,” Williams said. “And we did reach out to the city of Harker Heights and talked to them about procedures that are in place before demolition can occur.”

While the EPA regulations will postpone the project a few more weeks, Carpenter doesn’t think the results of the asbestos survey will stop the city from tearing down the houses.

“We’ll just have to do it in a different way,” he said.

In the meantime, Buttross will keep pushing to keep the Lynn Drive houses from being demolished.

“I don’t want to fight with the city … if they don’t like foreigners in their city, that’s fine,” Buttross said, referring to his status as an Austin resident. “I just want to save my houses.”

Contact Kristi Johnson at kristij@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7548

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