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A March 21 fire destroyed most of the building at 853 San Benito St. and left it “dangerous and a threat to the public,” prompting a request this week that $100,000 be set aside for potential abatement costs to handle expected lead paint and asbestos issues in the burned out structure that once housed Ridgemark Realty. After discussion, the council decided to table the issue for three months to give the property owner a chance to clean up the site.

Hollister Management Services Director Mike Chambless asked the city council on Oct. 6 to provide the money after building owner Tim Lantz was “obstructive and non-compliant” with code enforcement officers who sought to inspect the building prior to the fire. Chambless said his office had received reports that Lantz was living in an illegally-converted portion of the building and that at the scene of the fire, Lantz admitted to living in the structure.

To abate the now burned-out structure, Chambless said the city would need to test for asbestos and lead paint prior to demolition and then attach a lien to the property in an attempt to recover any costs associated with cleanup of the site.

“I cannot gaurantee you this is enough money; I cannot guarantee you this is too much money,” Chambless told the council. “None of this money includes any legal fees that may arise if we take this action.”

Councilman Ray Friend said the fire “wasn’t the city’s fault, it wasn’t the taxpayers’ fault, but you’re going to ask the city taxpayers to abate that? Maybe it costs $400,000 to do that and it’s worth $200,000. It just seems like we’re pouring water down a hole.”

Friend suggested that the city consider eminent domain to be able to remedy the situation “because it’s a hazard to the community. I just can’t see putting $100,000 in here and we don’t have an idea of what it’s going to cost.” Chambless noted that a lead paint encapsulation project at the airport costs $60,000, whereas the San Benito Street building would likely require removal of asbestos prior to demolition.

Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said the building “has to come down; it is a danger to the public” and that action should be taken by Lantz.

City Manager William Avera told the council that “either way we go down this path, the legal proceedings are going to cost us a fortune. We do have some exposure and we do have a blighted building downtown. We should try to eliminate that.”

Lantz, who said he is a general contractor that restores historic buildings and that he has owned the San Benito Street property for 13 years, then came to the podium to address the issue, saying that he wasn’t given much notice that the matter would be on the council agenda.

“You’re making a decision on my future and the future of my property,” he said, noting that he had been told by the city 10 days prior to get a demolition permit. He said most of the paint on the building was latex and was applied by him and that if there is lead paint there, it would be in trace amounts.

Velasquez told Lantz that “if you’re going to do the (abatement) work, we’re happy to have you do the work.” Chambless then told the council that Lantz would have six months from the issuance of the demolition permit to complete the work, so he recommended tabling the issue for three months.