Council to Again Examine St Anne Lofts Safety Concerns Tonight

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012, 11:28 am
Alice Dreger

Scheduled for the very end of tonight's City Council meeting is an update on safety concerns regarding St. Anne Lofts. Material included in the just-released Council packet suggests that the discussion about safety concerns may get fairly intense.

As ELi previously reported, the City issued a temporary Certificate of Occupancy (C.O.) for floors 2-4 of the project on August 24, allowing those who have rented the apartments to finally move in. Contrary to standard practice -- and surprising for a building with a history of safety concerns -- the City allowed move-in prior to the CO being issued. Scott Weaver, the City inspector who signed the C.O., also appears to have backdated the document.

Today's Council Packet includes an important letter from Weaver to the owner of the project, Kris Elliott, dated August 15. In that letter, written on behalf of the City, Weaver specifies what conditions Elliott's firm must satisfy within 30 days of the letter for the temporary C.O. to remain in effect. The list points to major open questions with regard to the integrity of the structure, including in particular the foundation, an aspect of the building that has been the subject of repeated discussion at Council.

Weaver's letter (see it here) seems also to suggest that special inspections remain to be confirmed for aspects of the steel construction, concrete construction, masonry construction, and so on. Concerns about the structure increased substantially after a section of the fourth floor collapsed during construction on June 18, after construction of a fifth floor penthouse had begun in violation of the building permit.

The Council packet also contains the much-discussed "Peabody Letter," a letter dated August 16 from Russell Peabody, President of the Peabody Group, to the City's inspector Weaver. In that letter (see it here), Peabody indicated "that to the best of my knowledge and belief the building as constructed is safe for human occupancy." Peabody went on to say that he was "the Design Professional in Responsible Charge for some but not the entire project."

That rhetorical hedging seems to have created some consternation at City Hall. It would appear from the email attachments finally released with the Peabody Letter (shown after the letter here) that city staff pressed Peabody to state that he had the ability to sign-off on the major questions about the building's foundation, questions raised in the independent engineering review conducted at the City's request by C2AE. In an email dated August 23, Peabody finally stated:

"Kebs [an engineering firm] did the actual site layout directly for the owner so it was not part of our services. Our responsibility does extend to the foundations".

Whether Peabody is qualified -- in terms of his professional training (as a designer/architect, not as an engineer) and in terms of his position on this particular project -- to make these reassurances is something I attempted to ask him. Peabody has not responded to two requests for an interview.

Does Peabody's letter and follow-up email satisfy Council and the City's inspectors that the foundations of St Anne Lofts were constructed in a manner that ensures public safety? Tonight's Council meeting should shed light on this question. But it remains unclear why Tim Dempsey, a Planning professional, rather than someone from the Code/engineering side of the City, is continuing to be the one to answer Council's questions about matters of engineering and public safety. Long-time City Code employee Howard Asch abruptly resigned his position in a move apparently related to this project in late June.

At the July 24 Council meeting, just after she voted with Councilmembers Triplett and Beard to allow the fifth floor of St. Anne Lofts (with Loomis and Power voting against), Mayor Goddeeris put forth a motion requiring weekly reports to council on safety concerns about the project. This motion passed unanimously but we have been unable to locate these weekly reports, despite repeated questions to the City regarding them.

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