Residents of Middle East say demolition has started at the site of a new community school before all city permits have been issued and all rodent and air quality monitors have been put into place, but the top executive of East Baltimore Development Inc. said that no demolition has taken place.
The residents emailed an angry letter Wednesday to City Council member Carl Stokes and EBDI Chief Executive Officer Christopher Shea decrying the start of demolition late Tuesday afternoon by P&J Contracting Inc. at East Eager and North Duncan streets.
EBDI had said demolition was to begin on or about Oct. 25.
“This unethical demolition activity highlights an extreme failure of communication and represents yet another breach of trust between EBDI and Middle East residents & neighbors,” wrote Donald Gresham, Sallie Gorham and Lawrence Brown, officials of Community Housing and Relocation Work Group, a grassroots advocacy group.
“Residents were promised [by EBDI vice president Dennis Miller] environmental and public health reports produced by a third-party on the potential impact of the EBDI demolition. Residents were promised protective measures, which our investigation shows no evidence of being used. Once again, EBDI has not delivered.”
Shea on Wednesday declined to call Tuesday’s activity demolition; it left huge heaps of wood, roofing shingles, bricks, concrete, trees, tree roots and asphalt.
“They are mobilizing, putting fencing up, bringing in some heavy equipment and clearing space to park that heavy equipment,” Shea said. “I can’t believe there’s any demolition of buildings going on there.”
The letter ended with demands that EBDI be more accountable to the community. The project is 10 years old and so far has cost $564 million, $212.6 million of that public funds. The final cost is estimated to be $1.8 billion.
“At every juncture, EBDI and its demolition contractors are proceeding in violation of the items discussed at last week’s meeting. We demand that EBDI: 1) put an immediate halt to these activities, 2) apologize verbally, publicly and sincerely to the community, and 3) abide by the terms of discussion that were addressed at [an] Oct. 11 meeting. We will not allow the health and wellbeing of human beings to be jeopardized nor ignored in this process.”
Shea said P&J officials are working under a $2.8 million demolition contract, approved last month by the city’s Board of Estimates.
He said the work performed on Tuesday consisted of taking down trees, parking pads and brick walls — and were performed under a city “grading permit,” of which he did not have a copy.
The specifications for the demolition work for the site, listed on EBDI’s website, include “demolition of streets, alleys and backyards” as part of the request for proposal.
Shea said that the demolition permits had not yet been issued by the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development.
Stokes, whose 12th District encompasses part of the EBDI site, said Wednesday there were “no parking pads” in the urban neighborhoods of East Baltimore.
He said he made a site visit after receiving the residents’ email pleading for help. He said it appeared that demolition had taken place — and criticized EBDI for a lack of control over the demolition project.
“We’re trying to enter a period of working together, and things like this just aggravate the relationship,” Stokes said.
Councilman Warren Branch, whose 13th District includes the school site, said he also visited the site late Wednesday and found piles of rubble, making up what he deemed demolition.
“They shouldn’t be doing anything,” Branch said. “We’re supposed to be all on one page.”
EBDI officials held a meeting with community residents on Oct. 11 to discuss the demolition of the 7-acre school site, which begins at Chester Street and Ashland Avenue.
Promises made by EBDI included not beginning demolition before sediment controls and rodent abatement were in place. In addition, Branch said a series of air quality monitors were also to be installed to determine the density of lead and asbestos dust in the air during the razing of buildings that are nearly 90 years old.
“Nothing is supposed to take place until they take air quality tests,” Branch said. “Something was done after we made them aware that nothing was to be done until then. Whether it’s called demolition or not, it gives the impression that it is demolition. To me, it is what it is.”
Gresham said he was concerned about the health of the residents who remain in Middle East.
Since 2005, EBDI has relocated more than 1,200 families, razing 669 structures so far with 700 more waiting to be demolished, most of them near the site of the new K-8, $40 million public school to be run by Johns Hopkins University that will be built with a mix of public and private funds.
“There’s a concern for the people,” Gresham said. “If you don’t follow protocol, you’re hurting innocent people and they will be affected for the rest of their lives. Why would you do that?”
An employee of P&J Contracting who gave his name only as “Dave” said Wednesday that demolition had occurred at the site — but was ordered to stop after it was brought to light by the residents.
“They did a little bit of work over there,” he said. “But they stopped us [Wednesday]. I’m relaying to you what the boss told me.”
At the site Wednesday, a large excavator with the P&J logo on it stood idle.
Sham Vij, a P&J employee, said demolition permits had not been yet been issued by the city for the work.
“We are waiting for the paperwork to be cleared from the city,” he said.
Vij said the razing at the site was intended to make way for “some access to work when the demolition starts.”
Branch said he planned to meet with Shea and Gresham on Thursday. He said he was considering sanctions against the nonprofit development group, which was formed by the city in 2001.
“I need to meet with them and find out what happened and why,” he said. “Then we can determine what action we’re going to take.”