Leon, city reach settlement

Published 10:12 am Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A settlement between the owner of fire-damaged buildings downtown and the city of Austin is a “huge step forward” in cleanup, the city’s attorney said, though that still could take several months.

Owner Maria Leon and the city agreed on a settlement Tuesday in court that paves the way for the city to go forward with bidding out the work, which the court will assess to Leon and her insurance agency upon completion. Leon and her attorney, Douglas Nepp, will be able to review bids as they come through and can object as they feel necessary, which would lead to further negotiation and, possibly, litigation.

City attorney Craig Byram said Tuesday’s settlement prevents the further delay a trial date would’ve created at this point.

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Leon had previously denied the city’s requests that she clean up the property on Main Street, which the city has deemed “hazardous.” Nepp had contended, through a court document, that the city accused her of arson, which kept Leon from receiving insurance and ultimately cleaning up the site. City officials have denied accusing Leon of arson.

Now, the city will get to work on bid specifications, or the scope of work to be completed. If Leon and her attorney consent to these, the city will move forward with finding bidders.

City engineer Jon Erichson said it’s hard to say exactly how long this process will take, but said as a rough estimate that work could get underway by the end of summer and be completed by fall. Plans are still in place to temporarily barricade the site during the Fourth of July parade, he said.

Erichson said a good deal of cleanup work will be dealing with environmental concerns, such as asbestos and mercury from old thermometers.

He said he was glad to see the settlement.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “Everybody wants to move forward with it.”

Byram said the damaged property will be completely leveled, as the city and Leon agreed that a restoration to the Mi Tierra grocery store would be too costly.

The damage occurred during a Jan. 15 fire that ravaged downtown and required the help of firefighters from multiple cities.

Nepp did not return a call for comment Tuesday.