Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to include responses from Hines.
It’s been known for some time that the historic Maple Terrace apartment complex at Maple Avenue and Wolf Street had sold to global real estate firm Hines, and that they plan to build a high-rise on the back parking lot area. It’s also reported by neighbors that the project will be by-right, which means neither the neighborhood nor the city will have a say in what’s built.
It’s with that neighborliness in mind that I received reports yesterday that Hines had begun selected demolition of parts of the historic building – with no demolition permit. The historic structure, which contains asbestos-contaminated building materials, did not appear to have protection for residents or nearby neighbors as building materials were thrown out windows into dumpsters below.
Hines ensures that safety and compliance measures are not only met, but a priority for all projects. Hines enlisted TRC Environmental Corporation to ensure the asbestos abatement process for Maple Terrace was in accordance with state and regulatory standards.
TRC Environmental Corporation (TRC) provided asbestos abatement consulting and oversight during asbestos abatement activities. TRC’s services included the preparation of a project-specific asbestos abatement specification, oversight of the abatement contractor’s work practices, area air monitoring and visual inspections. Asbestos abatement project oversight was performed by a Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS)-licensed Asbestos Project Manager and an Air Monitor Technician.
The text and construction photos featuring Maple Terrace in the Candy’s Dirt article, written by Jon Anderson and published on August 5, 2020, contain false information and fabricated accusations.
A Public Safety Issue
Asbestos isn’t a problem until it’s disturbed and fibers are released into the air. Here is the rub: Maple Terrace has residents sign a form about asbestos, stating in part, “You, your families, other occupants, and guests must not disturb or attach anything to the walls, ceilings, floor tiles or insulation…” The form goes on to say that should an acoustic tile fall on the floor people are walking on, it is hazardous.
To safely remove asbestos, workers need to be in hazmat suits. However, according to statements from residents in the building, there were no visible workers on the jobsite ensconced in hazmat suits. However, Hines has said that workers were in the building doing work in select, uninhabited units, on July 13, 14 and 15, in full hazmat. (CandysDirt.com was permitted to see, but not reproduce, one TRC Environmental Corporation daily report.
TRC workers followed regulatory standards for the asbestos abatement process — which includes the wearing of hazmat suits — during the work that occurred completely inside contained and sealed-off units. Tenant well-being is first and foremost in mind, so residents did not visually see the removal of dangerous debris, nor worker attire, as the removal process took place within sealed-off units.
The reason? Resident Ike Isenhour told me building management said they didn’t want to alarm residents.
TRC can confirm per documentation that all materials were removed safely, air quality tests were taken before, during, and after the abatement work, confirming that no hazardous materials became airborne as a result of the work.
Best practices for abatement require that the area where asbestos work is happening be sealed off from other parts of the building, as well as the outside, in those “tents” we have all seen. Residents say it wasn’t and considering that they were throwing materials out the window — how could it have been? Asbestos-containing material needs to be bagged and tagged in place. But Hines insists the materials observed going out the windows did NOT contain asbestos.
The pictures published in the August 5, 2020 article were taken and improperly credited as asbestos-containing material. The images are of typical non-hazardous construction debris, as TRC maintains the abatement scope was successfully completed prior to these images being taken — all hazardous materials were removed safely and properly and per State law.
A Maple Terrace resident says he called the city last week and the work was shut down in hours. However, Hines was able to obtain a demolition permit the following day, and work restarted Aug. 5. Personally, I’d have halted all work and initiated an investigation into the scope and remediation of what occurred.
Ike Isenhour wrote to me: “The building management told another neighbor that the building pulled a permit, but for an eight-building condo complex and not for the building type it is (1,000-resident multi-family).”
At least two neighbors are reporting ill health they allege has been caused by the ongoing work. One has retained a lawyer who notified building management of their health-related asbestos concerns.
The problem is that the worst of asbestos exposure takes years, if not decades, to manifest. You know all those lawyer ads on TV touting billion-dollar settlements for mesothelioma? That’s what we’re talking about.
Hines / Maple Terrace
For their part, building management did alert tenants of the upcoming disruption and construction work on July 8 with subsequent emails sent over the following days. However, it was only after being reported to Code Compliance that management detailed the scope of what was up in an email to residents.
In part, it details the precautions that will be taken (that residents report not seeing before the city shut them down):
To reiterate the care being taken in relation to work onsite and any future work, we wanted to outline the in-place protocols that are designed to ensure your health and wellness.
-Spraying the walls with water to mitigate dust as any walls are being taken down or removed.
-Spraying the materials with water again as they are loaded into the gondola to mitigate dust.
-Spraying the dumpster with the water hose as materials are dumped to mitigate dust.
Negative air machines will be implemented going forward on any future exploratory demolition work. These machines take air from inside the unit, pass it through the filter inside the machine and blow the clean air out of the window. We will have one machine in the smaller units and two in the larger units.
Please note that these machines were not required or used during this first week of work, but will be used on any and all future work.
Common Area Cleanliness
-Mopping the public hallways and public spaces twice a day.
-We learned that Precision Demolition was using the bathroom downstairs by the fitness room previously; during any future work, they will utilize a portable restroom on site.
-We are bringing in a specialized cleaning service to wipe down everything included overhead pipes, A/C unit, weights, weight benches, etc. at the fitness center to ensure cleanliness during any future work.
-We are mandating that all workers take breaks away from the building, and not in common areas or by the pool.
What Will Neighbors Think?
Maple Terrace is in a residentially dense part of Uptown with the Residences at the Stoneleigh and the Stoneleigh Hotel across the street, along with the adjacent Terrace House and Topaz townhomes.
The questions remain of how much debris became airborne and what was its asbestos content, if any? Which way and how strong was the wind blowing during the initial work period?
This also demonstrates the deep, difficult scope of preservation of historical properties, remediation work for materials used in the past that are toxic today, and communication with residents living with construction who have been told to keep their hands off potentially dangerous surfaces.
Editor’s Note: Officials at Hines were contacted prior to publication for comment regarding this story. Phone calls were not returned before the time of publication. This story will be updated as new facts become available.
Update: Officials at Hines sent the following response to CandysDirt.com publisher Candy Evans, and the responses to specific issues within the story have been added above.