Monday’s meeting to decide the future of the Flats at Mixson may have ended without a firm decision from North Charleston officials, but it did give the city’s Public Safety and Housing Committee plenty to consider.
On one side of the Mixson debate, there are the owners of the apartment community, Jamestown Properties, who are ready to demolish the 10-building complex and start fresh. Last month, the City of North Charleston received a letter on behalf of the Flats at Mixson stating that the buildings were unsafe for occupancy due to significant water infiltration. Alleging that consultants have discovered rotting wood, structurally unsound balconies, and termite infestation as a result of water infiltration, the owners are taking legal action against the Samet Corporation, the general contractor for the project who has been handling major repairs at Mixson.
Bettie Gebara of Jamestown argues that the cost of repairing the buildings would reach $30 million compared to $25 million to rebuild. According to Gebara, 90 of the complex’s 268 apartment units have been permanently vacant over the past year while repairs are made. She also revealed that the project’s insurance carrier has recently canceled their policy due to the troubled state of the buildings.
“The last thing that we wanted is for people to be out of these buildings. We wanted to have a successful project,” said Gebara during Monday’s meeting. “But right now, I can’t say where I can believe that all of the cost of the repairs is going to come in anywhere less than rebuilding.”
But representatives from Samet tell a different story. The contractors argue that the Flats at Mixson are safe and can be repaired, but they allege that Jamestown is looking for something more.
“These tenants are being kicked out on the street, and it’s a play because if they kick the tenants out, what it’s going to do is raise their loss of business revenue claim in the litigation by tens of millions of dollars,” said Samet attorney Chip Bruorton. “That’s what their interest is. It’s not the interest of the tenants.”
Jesse Kirchner, attorney for Jamestown, says there is structural damage to the buildings at Mixson
According to Samet representatives, water does continue to infiltrate the buildings at Mixson, but the buildings do not meet the city’s definition of significant structural damage and do not need to be permanently vacated. Last summer, the City of North Charleston Fire Department and Building Department issued a letter to Mixson declaring that the repair work on one of the development’s buildings had made it unsafe for occupants who were soon ordered to vacate. Samet now claims that lessons have been learned from the repairs performed on that building and future repairs could be carried out much more quickly and at less cost. They say that these new repairs would cost $7,400 per building and last for four to six months for each structure.
After being inundated with information from both sides, the three members of the Public Safety and Housing Committee went into executive session to receive legal advice. They ultimately decided to postpone their final ruling until June 6 to allow time to consider the evidence presented and perform a sight visit of the Flats. Up to that point, the meeting had already taken on a courtroom feel, with Bruorton asking that one structural engineer be sworn in before speaking. Many in the room, including Samet’s legal representative, questioned whether or not the committee should be tasked with a decision that could have major implications on the legal battle that is currently pending.
“To have this committee decide such a substantial issue without the ability to have cross-examination of witnesses or take depositions of the original structural engineer who issued a one-page letter, we believe denies Samet due process rights,” said Bruorton. “We’re participating in this hearing, but we don’t want our participation being considered a waiver in any way of our due process rights that we believe Samet is entitled to. After this hearing, should the committee decide to condemn these buildings, we’re requesting a full hearing be held.”