Starship Buildings

A section of the Starship buildings at McClellan is shown in this image from 2015.

Landon Ash and his 130 dogs won’t be leaving the Starships any time soon.

Calhoun County Circuit Judge Debra Jones ruled Sunday that Xtreme Concepts, the security contracting business that Ash owns, can remain in the oddly-named barracks complex it rents on the former Army base Fort McClellan.

Or at least it can stay until Xtreme completes its lawsuit against the McClellan Development Authority, which tried earlier this year to evict Xtreme, citing problems with dog poop in runoff from kennels on the site.

“This is a good opportunity for them to end this situation and just sell the property to Xtreme,” said Tamera Erskine, Xtreme’s lawyer.

For 20 years, the Starships have stood as an emblem of everything that’s difficult about redeveloping a former Army base. When Fort McClellan was open, soldiers in training lived in the massive gray buildings, named “starships” because it was a generic term for a building meant to house a battalion.

When the McClellan Development Authority – the civilian body tasked with redeveloping McClellan – acquired the base, the Starships stood alone in what had become the emptiest quarter of Anniston. No one seemed to need a building large enough for an army.

Then came Xtreme, a private contractor that provides tactical training and bomb-detection dogs for federal agencies. The company leased the buildings from the MDA in 2015, with an option to buy written into the lease. But sometime in early 2018, court testimony indicates, Xtreme stopped paying its rent.

MDA officials prodded the company for rent in September, and in November the company declared it wanted to exercise its option to buy. MDA officials in February approved a $1.2 million sale of the property – but a month later, the MDA backed out. Then it ordered Xtreme off the premises, with a May deadline for eviction.

In a hearing in Jones’ courtroom Friday, MDA officials laid out their rationale for that eviction. Witnesses cited runoff from the dog kennels at the Starships as a reason for high E. coli levels in Cane Creek, which in 2018 was named by the state as an impaired waterway.

Witnesses for the MDA also said Xtreme violated the lease for the property by holding unapproved wargames-style events that included the use of explosives.

Jones, in her Sunday order, wrote that none of the MDA’s arguments about runoff or explosives proved that “the public interest would be harmed” if Xtreme were allowed to stay on the property.

“The defendants were aware of the public interest concerns ... when they unanimously voted to sell the property to the plaintiff,”  Jones wrote.

The judge’s order keeps alive Xtreme’s plea for a court-ordered sale of the property. It allows Xtreme to stay at the Starships until that case is concluded. It requires Xtreme to pay rent and bans the company from holding military exercises for the general public until the buildings are brought up to city code.

Esrkine said Monday that the company has already canceled an exercise set for this fall.

“I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed,” said Jason Odom, the MDA’s lawyer.

He said the MDA would be able to make its case once board members for the MDA are able to testify at a full trial.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.