Saturday, August 27, 2016

Shining some light on the Davidson Depot project

“On February 3, 1984 the Mecklenburg County Department of Environmental Health received a complaint from a Davidson resident concerning a whitish material covering her children upon return from play. An investigation of the complaint and subsequent sampling of your property on Depot Street, Davidson, North Carolina (tax map reference 003-253-01) revealed that a portion of the property was an abandoned asbestos disposal site. The site had apparently been covered at one time, but now through the forces of nature, it was becoming uncovered exposing friable asbestos.

The above came from a letter on March 28, 1984 to the owner at the time describing the situation on the property in Davidson where the Metrolina Warehouses sit just across the tracks from downtown.  According to official documents, “the site was used by an asbestos fabric and tile manufacturer for waste disposal between 1930 and 1960.  Prior to 1930, the area was a low depression.  The disposal of waste asbestos tailings at this site filled the depression to its current level.”

By July of 1984, the situation had been sufficiently remedied with covering materials and agreement for ongoing maintenance to satisfy authorities.

Now, more than 30 years later that asbestos and the issues with its presence on that site are about to see the light of day.

On April 13, 2015 the Town of Davidson approved the individual building schematic design for a redevelopment project at the site.  The project, called “Davidson Depot”, is a 4 story, 180 unit apartment complex.  Since then the developer, Miller Valentine Residential Development out of Cincinnati, OH, has been conducting preliminary work for remediation for the asbestos.

As one can imagine, remediation of a large amount of asbestos is expensive. Proposals for the site have come and gone over the years, but none have made the numbers work. However, this one appears to have possibly solved that riddle.

The reason for using the word “possible” is because the project has been somewhat shrouded in secrecy up to this point.  However, a recent public records request revealed quite a bit.

Back in March of this year, Town Manager Jamie Justice asked the developer if a copy of the environmental report for the project was available.  As of last Thursday, according to Justice the town still didn’t have a copy – nearly 5 months later.

The records request also revealed a series of meetings coordinated by the developer with town staff.  Some were to be public, others not.

The first public meeting on the list was an architectural presentation to the town’s Design Review Board.  That meeting occurred on August 17th.  At that meeting it was announced there would be a public meeting on September 29th to discuss the brownfield issues and the asbestos problem.

However, that won’t be the first meeting on the brownfield cleanup.

A meeting was planned in early August between the Town Public Information Office and the developer’s PR firm to discuss “brownfield messaging”.  For obvious reasons, there is something troubling about the town working with a developer’s PR operation.  The documents referenced at the top of this piece were emailed to that PR firm on August 15th.

At least one closed Board meetings has occurred.  A closed meeting was planned with the NCDENR in attendance to discuss the site this past Tuesday, August 23rd.  Also, someone familiar with earlier discussions verified the project has had at least one other closed meeting.  The official reason for the closed session this week was “economic development”.

Whether or not a Board goes into a closed session is largely up to the Board’s discression as long as it falls into one of a few broad categories allowed by law – economic development being one..  However, the saying “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” comes to mind in this situation.  Citizen requests on Monday to open the meeting were met with a form response from the town manager saying the meeting was closed but inviting citizens to attend in September.  The meeting was suddenly cancelled on Tuesday morning.

With this many things not passing the smell test, folks are bound to believe something rotten other than asbestos lies below the surface.

This post first appeared in this week's edition of the Herald Weekly at

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