Tenants: City should be 'open and honest' about development plans
The future of Woodcliff Condominiums remains in question as both parties wait for the start of an Oct. 25 hearing.
The condition of the condominiums has been at issue since 2007, when the city of Whitehall first filed a complaint in the Environmental Division of Franklin County Municipal Court, alleging that the property is a public nuisance.
Numerous hearings have been held, the latest of which was a failed attempt to reach a settlement during a two-week hearing at the end of September before Municipal Judge Teresa Liston.
Whitehall has a contempt hearing against Woodcliff Condominiums scheduled for Oct. 25. A hearing to consider the city's request for a court order to demolish the units is scheduled for Oct. 26.
Owners and tenants of Woodcliff Condominiums opine that adequate progress is being made, and they appealed to Whitehall City Council members Oct. 2 to reconsider the effort to seek an order to demolish the 317-unit structure at the northeast corner of East Broad Street and South Hamilton Road.
Steve Close, president of the Woodcliff Condominium Association, and tenant Jarmela Green were among those who spoke Oct. 2. Close distributed pages from a comprehensive master plan of the city of Whitehall, illustrating an office and retail development at the corner of East Broad Street and South Hamilton Road.
Close told members he was aware of deed restrictions on Whitehall Community Park set to expire next year that would allow the city to use the park for any purpose, and as the park is contiguous to Woodcliff Condominiums, razing the condominiums would provide Whitehall with a large parcel for alternative development.
Close said Whitehall might desire to demolish the condominiums as part of such a development plan, drawing pointed rebuttal from the Whitehall administration.
Close told council members numerous reputable home-builders are investing in repairs and renovations of the units.
"It's had a bad reputation in the past," Close said, assessing blame to an individual he would not name.
In February 2008, Municipal Judge Harland Hale ordered Woodcliff owner Tom Oleander, having been cited for numerous health- and building-code violations, to cede daily management of the facility to a court-appointed receiver; however, he retained ownership of more than 200 units.
Close said Oleander owns about 30 units but that he is purchasing those properties to end Oleander's connection with any of the units.
"We're investing about $20,000 in each unit. We've put in new carpets, windows and HVAC," Close said.
Green told council members she has lived at Woodcliff Condominiums for two years.
"It's affordable and has a great location (to amenities)," said Green, who has children at Rosemore Middle School and Whitehall-Yearling High School.
"It would be a bad idea to bulldoze it and harmful to families living there," Green said.
Alex Close, son of Steve Close and a property owner, described an 85-year-old tenant with no other residential options.
"People have a lot invested here. A lot of lives are ruined if Woodcliff is bulldozed," Alex Close said.
"But you need to let the owners know your intentions," Steve Close said, appealing to city officials "to be open and honest" about its intentions.
"Buy the land if you want it for development. ... But don't just take it by saying it's a nuisance," Close said.
No council member responded, but the administration took exception.
"I never saw or supported what was shown tonight. ... If you bring (material), make sure it's current," Mayor Kim Maggard said.
"The mayor didn't stutter," city attorney Mike Shannon said, adding that he thought it was inappropriate that the matter was being publicly vetted while litigation is pending.
Shannon said the document Close had presented, showing an Easton-like development, had been commissioned by a former development director and former Whitehall Mayor Lynn Ochsendorf, and it in no way reflected the current mindset of the city.
Shannon and Maggard both dismissed the architectural rendering as the visionary aspirations of a past administration.
"To let anyone think that we would (destroy) this for (development purposes) is an absolute travesty. The only reason we are seeking to do so is for the safety, health and welfare of our residents," Shannon said. "It was declared a public nuisance in 2008, ... and even to the casual observer, that nuisance has not been abated."
Following the meeting, Close said he was not aware of the circumstances of how the comprehensive master plan had been commissioned or received, but he reiterated that written documents dated as late as 2010 spelled out a preference for office and retail development at East Broad Street and South Hamilton Road.