Moore Square planner under fire for licensing issues

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJuly 22, 2013 

MOORESQUARE06.NE.031711.ASR

SHAWN ROCCO — srocco@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— An urban designer working to revitalize downtown’s Moore Square is under fire again for performing work without a professional license.

New York designer Christopher Counts was hired by the city several years ago to draw up a master plan for the park, which will serve as blueprints for a $14.8 million upgrade. Earlier this year, his firm also conducted a tree and soil study designed to identify any natural problems with the site.

After hearing complaints from Raleigh landscape architect Mike Gibbons, city leaders said they will look into Counts’ qualifications – and perhaps demand a refund.

“I’m pretty incensed by the fact that he has no license at all,” said Councilman Thomas Crowder, who’s also a licensed architect. “I don’t think this board should sit blindly.”

City Attorney Tom McCormick said the evidence supports Gibbons’ claim that Counts and his associate, Jim Urban, aren’t licensed in landscape architecture or soil science. Counts’ firm got a landscape architecture license after being ordered by the state licensure board to do so last year.

“We know that he did some work when neither him nor his firm was properly licensed,” McCormick said, adding that the council “may want to talk about getting some of your money back.”

Reached Friday, Counts disputed the claims about his firm’s qualifications, pointing to its long list of successful projects and awards. “These malicious accusations are false and without merit, and I’m disappointed to learn that Mr. Gibbons is taking his false accusations to the City Council,” he said.

But Counts admitted that Urban isn’t a licensed soil scientist, though his report detailed the soil health of Moore Square. Urban told the City Council in April that Counts’ Moore Square plan won’t hurt the park’s trees and soil.

“I have a consultant who is a world-renowned expert in trees,” Counts said. “He never claimed to be registered in soil science.”

And while Counts’ firm is now licensed in landscape architecture – he says he wasn’t aware that early-stage master planning required one – Gibbons says the urban designer needs to hold a license himself. And McCormick is considering whether the work done without a license violated Counts’ $216,600 contract with the city.

For now, the city is awaiting another ruling from the N.C. Board of Landscape Architects, which will determine soon whether Counts has further violations. McCormick said the council will discuss any legal action in closed session.

Counts says the complaints are delaying Moore Square improvements, though the city hasn’t allocated full funding yet. He said he wants to get back to work on the project. “This is harming the citizens of Raleigh,” he said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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