BY DAVID FISHER
DRESDEN (May 10) — The December 10, 2021, tornado destroyed or heavily damaged numerous residential and commercial structures, leaving Dresden property owners with the prospect of either rebuilding or leaving their lots vacant.
Several business owners opted to rebuild and some are already doing so. Bryant’s Tire & Alignment Center, located at 347 Pikeview at the intersection of Pikeview and Morrow Street, which is owned by Derek Doster, is undergoing repairs.
Kris and Mike McCaslin, owners of Kountry Korner, located at 9308 Hwy. 22 in Dresden, are in the process of rebuilding their business.
CBR Restaurant, along with Donnie Essary’s Automotive, have built back and are officially open for business.
Jackey and Terri Lamb, owners and operators of Dresden 4×4 & Automotive Center, located at 518 Pikeview St., and Jackey Lamb Storage, located on Hwy. 54, also announced plans to rebuild their businesses damaged by the tornado. Additionally, the couple own Big Ram Trailer Sales and Rental, located at 1061 East Main Street. But fortunately, Big Ram was not damaged by the storm. The Lambs have built storage units on Highway 54 adjacent to their Big Ram business.
Building Code Issues
After having their storage building built, Mr. and Mrs. Lamb ran into a roadblock preventing them from renting out their storage units.
The refusal of Dresden’s building inspector, David Kelly, to grant a certificate of occupancy, so the Lambs can rent out their storage units, was the main focus of the Dresden Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s May 2 and May 10 meeting. Comments from both meetings are mentioned below for clarity.
Mr. and Mrs. Lamb addressed the board concerning delays in opening their storage unit business.
The couple requested a certificate of occupancy be issued. They commented that work was completed, and the units were ready to be rented out.
During last month’s meeting, Mr. Lamb stated the re-opening of the storage rental business was being held up by Kelly, because he claimed it did not pass inspection. He argued he has done everything asked of him by the inspector, but has still not been granted a certificate of occupancy.
However, at that time, Dresden board members stated they wanted to contact Kelly and obtain more information before proceeding. This was one of the reasons for scheduling the May 10 called meeting.
At the board’s May 10 meeting, discussion on the issue resumed.
Mr. Lamb’s claims were supported by the contractor that poured the foundation, Cole Builders, as well as the owner of Houston Engineering. During a phone conversation with the board, the owner stated the storage units are constructed according to a standard building plan used in Tennessee and neighboring states, including the City of Martin. The contractor said these structures were approved by other building inspectors, regarding meeting building code, without any problems.
Kelly claimed the perimeter of the concrete foundation slants inward, is not 12 inches wide, and is not deep enough to pass code. He also stated a soil compaction test was not performed. The inspector stated the foundation does not meet the building code and refused to approve a certificate of occupancy, unless these deficiencies are corrected.
According to a representative of Cole Builders, Kelly required several changes be made that were not listed in the building plans and are not required, but were made as requested, to satisfy the building inspector’s demands.
Kelly stated that contractors should know the state codes.
Lamb stressed the need for buildings to be inspected in a timely manner to prevent construction delays. It was also implied that, had Kelly been available to inspect the storage units sooner, Lamb would not have felt the need to resort to photographic evidence, so the building contractor (who is based out-of-state) could proceed with construction.
Mayor Jeff Washburn noted the board has had problems reaching Kelly in the past, due to Kelly working full-time as building inspector in Shelby County.
Kelly stated he works in Memphis and only inspects Dresden buildings on Saturdays and weekday afternoons after 6 p.m.
The mayor stated, “I believe that you need to make yourself available, if you’re going to be our building inspector. You need to be here to advise the people what’s expected of them, and to make an inspection on the day that these things are occurring. This might have been prevented, before they started pouring concrete out of the truck, if you had been available that day.”
Kelly argued he didn’t inspect the foundation because he had never been called to inspect it. Kelly said when he looked at the property last month, “I could see that the footing was not like it’s supposed to be, as per with the plan that they submitted.” He suggested the contractor could do several things to correct the footing issues, including installing a stabilizing system, or digging down the side of the foundation and pouring concrete underneath it, but he had not received a reply. “I did offer that, as soon as they got the footings stabilized and fixed underneath the structure, as per code, that I could give them a temporary certificate of occupancy for those areas.”
Although Kelly wasn’t onsite to witness the compaction test or the concrete being poured, Lamb said he provided Kelly with photographic evidence for anything he was not present to observe, including pouring the concrete floor. Copies of these photos were made available to the board.
However, Kelly rejected the photographic evidence. He said he is liable for any job he signs off on as being up to code, and refused to do so, unless it passes inspection.
Houston Engineering provided Dresden City officials with a foundation inspection report stating the building is up to code. A letter sent by Senior Project Manager, J. Byron Houston, reads: “This is to certify that Houston Engineering made a pre-pour inspection of the monolithic foundation on the referenced property, and to the best of my knowledge and belief, said foundation has been constructed in substantial conformance with the approved plans and specifications, minimum construction requirements of the 2018 Edition of the International Building Code, and the City of Dresden, TN Building Regulations.”
Regarding the foundation specifications, the report states, in part, the “footing bearing value was 2,800 pounds per square foot; and the exterior sides were a continuous 12 inches wide x 12 inches in depth, with four vertically spaced rebar, as shown in the typical perimeter section on the foundation layout plan.” It also noted termite soil treatment was completed before the concrete was poured. Additionally, the report included photos documenting Houston Engineering’s claims.
To demonstrate their confidence in the quality of the job, the firm agreed to guarantee the structure for 10 years or ever how many years the city deems appropriate. The company’s owner also agreed to sign documentation relieving the City of Dresden from any liability.
Mr. Lamb noted, even though the company that poured the foundation, Cole Builders, was willing to guarantee the job, and they had completed all requirements by the inspector, Kelly still refused to sign off on the job, because he claimed it wasn’t up to code.
When board members entertained the possibility of overriding Kelly’s refusal to issue a certificate of occupancy, Kelly argued the code manual states that the board can’t make legal decisions regarding code variances. He stated a certificate of occupancy cannot be granted by anyone except a building inspector.
Lamb stressed he has invested a lot of money in constructing the storage units and the current situation is hurting his business. He said there is a great need for storage space in Dresden, especially following the tornado. “I have people wanting to rent space now.”
Mrs. Lamb expressed her frustration over the situation, saying if she and her husband are forced to tear down their storage unit, they may relocate all of their businesses outside the city limits of Dresden.
Mrs. Lamb asked Kelly, “If we move it out of the city, you’re out of the picture, is that correct?”
“That’s correct,” Kelly said.
“Then what I may do is, this whole building may come down and I may move it out of the city,” Mrs. Lamb said. “When I move it out of the city, I’m moving Dresden 4×4 out of the city; I’m moving Big Ram out of the city; and that’s going to be it. I’m selling everything.”
Alderwoman Sandra Klutts implored Mr. and Mrs. Lamb to reconsider and keep their businesses in Dresden. She said that none of board members want them to leave Dresden, and will seek to resolve the problem, so they receive a certificate of occupancy as soon as possible.
In order to attempt to resolve the issue, the owner of Houston Engineering agreed to dig underneath the footing and leave it exposed for Kelly to inspect on Friday, May 13, and see if it would pass code.
UPDATE: Kelly did not arrive at the storage building jobsite Friday afternoon, as expected, but came on Saturday instead. When he inspected sections of the footing, which had been exposed after Cole Builders removed some of the dirt, Kelly submitted a letter to the city saying the footing does not meet code.
However, company representatives from Cole Builders inspected the footing, and determined that it meets code requirements.
As a result of the situation, a special-called meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, May 17 at 6 p.m. at Dresden City Hall, as requested by two aldermen and supported by Mayor Washburn. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the position of building inspector for the City of Dresden, as well as to discuss bids received for the City’s Debris Monitoring Contract.
The mayor stated Kelly’s inability to inspect jobsites when a contractor is ready to pour concrete is impractical. He explained, when contractors are ready to pour concrete during the week, they can’t stop work and wait until Saturday for the inspector to arrive. Mayor Washburn notes, even though Kelly says he can come during the week when he gets off work, by then, it’s after 6 p.m. During late autumn and early spring, it’s already dark. This makes it difficult for an inspector to see well enough to perform an inspection.
Tornado Debris Removal
At the time of the meeting, there had been no response to the city’s request for proposal for a debris monitoring contractor, which FEMA requires before authorizing a debris removal contractor to begin hauling off tornado debris. This requirement must be met before FEMA will pay for the cleanup.
The mayor stated he has recently learned that the city can serve as its own debris monitoring contractor, providing full documentation is provided. This includes photos of the debris being hauled to a dump site, and weight ticket showing the before and after weights of the trucks when unloading at the dump site.
By the time of the bid deadline on Monday, May 16, City Recorder Jennifer Branscum says she received two bids for the job of debris monitoring contractor. The board considered the bids when it met in special session on Tuesday at Dresden City Hall.