State environmental officials have given Charlotte developers the preliminary go-ahead to redevelop a former asbestos factory in downtown Davidson. But they still need to overcome the concerns of residents in the historically black neighborhood around the mill.
Would-be developers of the old Carolina Asbestos mill have come and gone over the past couple of decades. They've usually been tripped up by the cost of cleaning up asbestos dumped at the site. And they've faced opposition from neighbors with long-standing fears about the negative health effects of asbestos - including cancer and lung disease.
More than 100 people came to a public meeting on the latest plan Monday night, where resident Evelyn Carr spoke up.
"I'm hoping that you don't do it, because we have lost a lot of people. I lost my daddy, I lost my husband from asbestos. If y'all go in there now and tear this asbestos up … I have lived in that asbestos for 90 years. I am 90 years old. And I don't care what you do to it, you can't protect that asbestos," she said.
The site is currently known as the Metrolina Warehouse, and houses small businesses including home furnishings stores. When it was build in the 1890s, it was the Linden cotton mill. It became an asbestos factory in 1930.
Previous proposals called for tearing down the old factory and putting up new buildings. That likely would have disrupted old asbestos - including waste fabric, tile and shingles dumped there between 1930 and the 1960s.
Now state environmental officials say a new plan has a good chance of succeeding, because it permanently caps buried asbestos with asphalt or plastic and leaves the old mill buildings intact.
"It's going to be retail, commercial, restaurants, a brewery. No residential components at all, reusing the existing structures, which is what the residents and the community wanted," said Carolyn Minnich, who oversees the project for the state Department of Environmental Quality's waste management division.
The proposal by 301 Depot Holdings, affiliated with Charlotte-based Lat Purser & Associates, would clean up and redevelop the site under the state's rules for "brownfields" - former industrial sites with potential environmental hazards. Lat Purser has been approved for the program.
"We've vetted them that they are financially able to handle it, they have the technical expertise, they have a good standing within the state. So it's a good partner we wanted to work with," Minnich said.
Minnich said asbestos buried on the 4.7-acre site would be topped with a hard cover and top soil, then replanted with grass. That will prevent erosion - and asbestos runoff - that has plagued temporary covers installed since the mid 1980s.
Lat Purser has done at least one other brownfields project, off Freedom Drive in Charlotte. The company's Mark Miller said it's important to pay attention to the neighbors.
"I think that that's important, that we hear from these people, especially that have the history with this site. And we need to be able to address their concerns," he said.
At Monday's meeting, residents appeared open to the plan, but some worried that asbestos might be disturbed.
State officials say they'll monitor air quality continuously during construction, and require regular inspections afterward.
Miller wouldn't say how much the cleanup and construction might cost. The company still must submit formal cleanup plans for state approval. And it needs town planning approval as well.
If all goes according to plan, Miller said construction could start by the end of 2020.
RELATED LINKS AND DOCUMENTS
Dec. 9, 2109, Department of Environmental Quality public presentation about 301 Depot St., Davidson (PDF)