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Fines against company that razed historic houses increased

Soil samples taken today at the Woodberry site reveal elevated levels of a potentially hazardous gas

Above: Woodberry residents stand before the remains of the 170-year-old stone houses they thought the developer agreed to save. (Mark Reutter)

Baltimore’s housing department has increased the fines – from $1,000 to $3,000 – assessed against a contractor who demolished two historic houses in Woodberry.

The demolition on Tuesday sparked a firestorm of complaints by local residents and the larger preservation community, who said the developer had promised the community and the Urban Design & Architecture Advisory Panel to retain the building’s stone facades.

As reported in The Brew yesterday, Woodberry Station LLC, registered to Katherine Jennings,  was issued a “stop-work” order and fined $3,000.

Demolition Man Contracting LLC was set to be fined $1,000 for failing to post advance notice of the demolition, schedule a visit by a city inspector and supply adequate water for dust control. Instead, the fines will total $3,000, HCD spokesperson Tammy Hawley, told The Brew this afternoon.

The agency will place a $500 fine on each of the three code violations, rather than group the three violations together as a single $500 fine.

As a result, Demolition Man will be fined $1,500 for each of the two demolished houses, or $3,000 altogether, Hawley said.

The lapses cited by the housing department are notable because the chief operating officer of the demolition company is a former HCD employee.

On Tuesday, Paula E. Richardson refused to identify herself or her company while her crew ripped down the buildings with unmarked and rented equipment.

Richardson worked in HCD’s code enforcement office as a data entry operator between 2009 and 2013, the agency confirmed today.

In 2012, she and owner Wyatt Lee Gray Jr. incorporated Demolition Man, which is currently “not in good standing” with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation for failing to file property returns.

Butadiene Found in Soil

Environmental testing was performed today at the demolition site by Woodberry Station to secure a “no further action” designation from the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Two of six locations tested at 3511 and 3523 Clipper Road had showed levels of 1,3-butadiene above MDE’s residential screening level, agency spokesman Jay Apperson said.

1,3-butadiene is a colorless gas used mainly in the production of synthetic rubber. Acute low exposures of the gas can cause irritation to the eyes, throat, nose and lungs.

Long-term high exposures can damage the central nervous system and cause leukemia and other cancers. The gas is designated a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

As a result of the tests, “the owners proposed, and MDE approved, a work plan to do further sampling of the site for such contaminants as metals and VOCs [Volatile Organic Compounds],” Apperson said.

MDE will determine if remediation is needed after the work plan is completed.

5/24 UPDATE: The work plan was the result of initial soil testing back in January 2019 that found 1,3-butadiene. Yesterday’s testing was “for further characterization of the site,” Apperson said.

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