Fifth Ward residents asks city to reject bid for special designation by property owner they claim is avoiding contamination clean up

HOUSTON – Fifth Ward residents are asking Houston City Council to reject an application from a local community development corporation to have its requirements to clean up a contaminated site reduced.

The property at 3814 Lyons Avenue is currently home to a four-story apartment building that houses senior citizens.

Pleasant Hill Village Retirement Community was built in 1998, but decades before, the land was occupied by an auto repair shop, washateria and a dry cleaner. Three businesses that left behind toxic chemicals that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality confirmed have contaminated the soil and groundwater.

The senior complex is owned by the Pleasant Hill Community Development Corporation. Reverend Harvey Clemons, Jr. is chair of the PHCDC, chair of the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) 18, and pastor of Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church.

According to the TCEQ, the site is has been part of the state’s Voluntary Cleanup Program since 2016. The VCP offers administrative, technical, and legal incentives to “encourage the cleanup of contaminated sites in Texas.” A spokeswoman for TCEQ did not answer any of KPRC 2′s questions about the details of Pleasant Hill CDC’s remediation plan or its progress.

“The contamination has been mitigated to a level where safety has been dealt with and there’s no possibility of injury to the citizens,” Rev. Clemons told KPRC 2.

Records show in December 2020, Pleasant Hill CDC filed an application with the city of Houston for a Municipal Settings Designation, of MSD, concerning the Pleasant Hill Village property.

According to the City of Houston’s Public Works website, MSDs prohibit the use of impaired shallow groundwater as potable water. The city has five criteria that must be met for an MSD to be approved: 1) the plume is stable or decreasing in concentration; 2) the plume is delineated to the residential protective concentration limit; 3) the site has been enrolled in a state or federal cleanup program 4) the site has been thoroughly investigated with sufficient data and 5) the source of contamination has been removed.

The city site adds, “An MSD does not remove any liability from the property owner, nor does it shift any liability to the City.”.

“We have complied with protocols and process that is in place,” Rev. Clemons said.

But members of the Progressive Fifth Ward Community Association believe Pleasant Hill CDC is using the MSD as a loophole to get out of additional cleanup they believe is needed at the site and says the application does not meet the city’s criteria.

In a letter to Houston city council members, Lone Star Legal Aid, which represents the Progressive Fifth Ward Community Association, wrote:

“...this MSD Application, if approved, would allow the owners to escape further cleanup obligations with respect to contaminated groundwater. Pleasant Hill CDC has known about this contamination for the last 25 years while allowing our most vulnerable residents, senior citizens, to reside feet away from the contaminated soil and groundwater”.

Community members say given Fifth Ward’s history of environmental injustices, Pleasant Hill CDC should be doing more than meeting the state and city’s minimum requirements.

“You should be doing extra, you should be taking additional monitoring steps to ensure you’re not endangering residents and exposing to contamination,” said Erica Hubbard, president of Progressive Fifth Ward Community Association.

The city council committee that reviews MSDs will hold a public meeting on the matter, Friday, April 8, 2022, at 10:00 A.M inside the Houston City Hall Council Chamber.

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