Engineers disagree on structural safety of Flats at Mixson

by Ashley Heffernan

The Flats at Mixson apartment complex was completed in June 2014 for about $21.8 million. (Photo/Ashley Heffernan)

The Flats at Mixson apartment complex was completed in June 2014 for about $21.8 million. (Photo/Ashley Heffernan)

The future of a 2-year-old apartment complex in North Charleston hinges on a city committee decision and a lawsuit over the buildings’ construction.

The Flats at Mixson — a 10-building, 268-unit apartment complex at 4500-4501 Mixson Ave. in the Park Circle community — has been riddled with water damage for much of its two-year existence.

Initially, first-floor residents were moved to higher units in an attempt to repair the problems. But in early May, all the renters were informed by Greystar, the complex’s management company, that they would need to vacate the premises over concerns that the buildings might be unsafe to live in long term.

“I moved in in January, so I’m not ecstatic about moving out,” Jason Kirk, 37, said a few days before moving to a new complex.

Kirk chose The Flats at Mixson because it afforded a quick commute to his job at Lowcountry Aids Services on Meeting Street Road.

“We like Park Circle, and we loved the way the apartments looked, and we were excited about it,” he said.

Kirk said he began noticing problems from the beginning: water leaks, cracked stucco and loose handrails.

“It’s unfortunate that this wasn’t addressed sooner, and I feel a little bit like we were sold a false bill of goods when we moved in,” he said. “It feels like someone knew this was going to happen. Maybe they hoped it wouldn’t, but we wouldn’t have moved in if we knew this was going to happen, clearly.”

The complex’s owner, The Flats at Mixson L.P., an affiliate of Atlanta-based investment firm Jamestown L.P., hired North Carolina-based Samet Corp. to build the structures for about $21.8 million. They were completed in June 2014, and within months, consultants hired by The Flats found signs of water infiltration.

In an attempt to assign responsibility for the damage, The Flats filed a lawsuit in August against Samet Corp. and the 16 subcontractors that worked on the site.

The owner wants Samet and the subcontractors to pay $337,540 in liquidated delay damages for not completing the project on time and an additional $20 million or more for damages related to defective construction and breach of their “implied warranty of workmanlike service,” according to the lawsuit, which is ongoing.

Owner vs. builder

Representatives from both companies — who disagree on the severity of the damage and the cost of repairs — spoke during a Public Safety and Housing Committee meeting held May 23 at North Charleston City Hall. The three-person committee, which will decide whether the structures should be repaired or demolished, chose to recess for two weeks to allow time for a site visit.

Jesse Kirchner, an attorney with Thurmond Kirchner & Timbes P.A. representing Jamestown, said the consultants for The Flats found wet, swollen and rotting oriented strand board — a type of board used within the structures that loses its structural integrity when soaked — as well as damage to the wall stud framing, termite infestation and fungal growth within the stucco.

Samet Corp. added temporary shoring for balconies in The Flats at Mixson apartment complex, which has been plagued by water leaks and cracked stucco. (Photo/Ashley Heffernan)

Samet Corp. added temporary shoring for balconies in The Flats at Mixson apartment complex, which has been plagued by water leaks and cracked stucco. (Photo/Ashley Heffernan)

“The source of the moisture was never corrected,” he said. “Water continues to pour into these units.”

Samet spent about $3.5 million repairing Building 500, plus an additional $1.5 million on temporary shoring throughout the other nine buildings, said Bettie Gebara, director of development and construction for Jamestown. She estimated it would cost $25 million to demolish and rebuild the complex and $30 million or more to repair it.

“The last thing that we want is for people to be out of these buildings,” Gebara said. “We want to have a successful project, but right now, I can’t say where I can believe at all that the cost of the repairs is going to come in anywhere less than rebuilding. It’s discouraging, but that’s probably true.”

She said the company has no plan to repair the buildings.

“The bank called our loan this week, so we had to pay off our loan on the property,” Gebara said. “We just have to wait. We’ve filed a lawsuit, and I guess we’re waiting for it to go to court at this point.”

Jamestown hired Browder & LeGuizamon and Associates Inc., an Atlanta-based structural engineering firm, to assess the property. With the exception of Building 500, the buildings have “lost their capability to resist the lateral and gravity loads for which they were designed, making them structurally unsound and unsafe,” a letter from the firm to Gebara said.

Samet, for its part, hired Al Schweickhardt, a structural engineer with Applied Building Sciences in North Charleston, to determine whether the buildings are safe.

“I’m comfortable. I’m willing to stamp, sign and put my license on the line to say these buildings are currently structurally sound,” he said.

Temporary repairs would cost about $7,400 per building and could be done in less than three weeks, said Chip Bruorton, an attorney with Rosen, Rosen & Hagood LLC, who was hired by Samet.

“To vacate these buildings and to throw all these tenants out on the street for something that can be done for $7,400, we think is impractical,” Bruorton said.

He also disagreed with Jamestown on the cost of the repairs to Building 500, which he put at $2.4 million.

“Most of the buildings can be done much quicker, and they can be done for cheaper,” Bruorton said, adding that Building 500 was more expensive because it was a test case for the other buildings.

The Public Safety and Housing Committee is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. June 6 at City Hall to decide the site’s fate.

This story originally appeared in the May 30 print edition of the Charleston Regional Business Journal.

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Ashley Heffernan

Staff Writer
Ashley Heffernan covers residential real estate, higher education, health care, hospitality, tourism, retail, financial services and the city of North Charleston for the Charleston Regional Business Journal. Reach her at 843-849-3144 or via email.