|CHIEF GARRETT (Times Union photo)|
Where there’s smoke there’s fire … unless everyone sticks to the script.
Fire Chief Tom Garrett, while testifying in front of the city Council earlier this week, said the one and only reason he ordered the buildings knocked down on King Street was out of concern for public safety.
Out of 501 vacant buildings in the city, the ones on King Street – which may have different addresses but were really one big row house - presented the largest threat to the safety of fire fighters and the public at large.
Garrett said he didn’t talk to anyone in City Hall about ordering the emergency demo and the one and only discussion he had with Don Boyajian, the buildings’ owner, was the morning the buildings were taken down and during that chat Boyajian agreed to pay for it.
A couple things come to mind.
-The demolished King Street buildings have been vacant for years if not decades. The one end was occupied by a strip club until it was shuttered for offering customers more than a show and the other is home to the new Bombers Burrito bar. I still don’t know what suddenly made the buildings a threat to public safety – especially since the strip club and its extracurricular activities were shut down.
|KING STREET DEMO|
-Since when does the fire chief have the authority to unilaterally knock buildings down? When did it last happen outside of a building that was ravaged by fire? There is some question as to whether the chief has the power under the charter or not but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for now. But, even with the benefit of the doubt graciously extended, you would think he would run it by someone first - like the mayor perhaps. Or maybe the city engineer, but he was conveniently on vacation. (Russ Reeves has since resigned)
-Garrett said the boiler and most of the piping was removed from the building so he assumed there was no asbestos left. Now, not only does the chief have the authority to reduce any building in the city to rubble, he can do an asbestos survey by eyeballing it rather than using any funky air monitoring or testing equipment.
-He also knows enough about structural engineering to determine the wall between Bombers and the demolished buildings was not going to collapse while crews whacked away at it with a wrecking ball. In fact, he was so confident of that assessment, patrons were allowed to continue to patronize the bar while demolition was going on. Why ruin a perfectly good Happy Hour, after all.
-The chief also now negotiates with the building owners on paying for the demolition should he order one.
-Given the above powers and/or skills the chief now possesses, I don’t think he makes enough overtime.
-No one is sure when or who ordered the Department of Public Works to set up the barricades but testimony showed it was ready to go the day before. Since Garrett ordered the demolition without speaking with anyone else one can logically assume he requested the barricades. Maybe the chief can plow streets and pick up garbage too.
-Boyajian may have paid more to get rid of the debris because it was determined there was asbestos present – despite the chief’s determination – but he did bypass a bunch of red tape most building owners have to go through if they want to conduct a demolition. That red tape includes a getting a permit, getting approvals from the Planning Commission and the county Department of Health, meeting a host of other criteria and having a post-demolition plan for the site. (See section 141-28and 141-29 of the City Code.)
So far, to no fault of the Council or how it is conducting the investigation into the demolitions on King Street and the one at the King Fuels site, there is a bunch of smoke and, so far, no fire. And there won’t be so long as everyone sticks to the script of “public safety concerns” and “miscommunication.”