Whitehall News

Demolition suspended

Whitehall, Woodcliff Condominiums managers reach deal in court

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Managers of Woodcliff Condominiums and the city of Whitehall have reached an agreement in Franklin County Municipal Court to allow the 317-unit residential development to remain above ground.

Whitehall had sought to demolish the structures as a public nuisance, but city attorney Mike Shannon said Nov. 5 that the city finally had obtained an "enforceable plan" with "an aggressive timeline" and agreed to suspend its pursuit of a demolition order.

The settlement ends a five-year effort on the part of Whitehall to compel owners and managers to address health and safety code violations at the site.

"We finally have a compliance plan with an aggressive timeline that will result in addressing the concerns we have with the property," Shannon said. "This compliance plan is on a unit-by-unit basis."

Franklin County Board of Health officials individually inspected each unit and said required repairs have been prioritized, Shannon said.

Some of the most egregious violations have already been repaired and all violations must be addressed within 18 months, Shannon said.

The most serious problems include the proper repair of utilities to ensure public safety; other violations are simply a matter of aesthetics, such as repairing gutters and painting, Shannon said.

As part of the agreement, the Woodcliff Condominium Association agreed to reimburse legal fees of $88,000 to the city of Whitehall.

The reimbursable legal fees relate only to those the city has incurred since the start of 2012, when the city filed a complaint in the Environmental Division of Franklin County Municipal Court, seeking to demolish Woodcliff Condominiums.

Whitehall sought the reimbursement because Woodcliff's failure to meet the requirements of a previous agreement to address code violations was not executed, compelling the city to take renewed legal action.

"That amount reflects about half, at least, of our legal fees (since the start of 2012)," Shannon. "It's unprecedented for us to receive a reimbursement (in this manner)."

Prior to this year and dating back to 2007, when the city first filed a complaint against Woodcliff Condominiums, the city's legal fees did not exceed about $60,000, Shannon said, but immediately could specify a precise amount.

Steve Close, president of the Woodcliff Condominium Association, was not available for comment before ThisWeek's press time. His son, Alex, one of several Woodcliff property owners, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Both were at the Oct. 2 Whitehall City Council meeting, where they appealed to city officials to reconsider the complaint and outlined improvements that have begun at the Eisenhower-era condominiums at the northeast corner of East Broad Street and North Hamilton Road.

"We're investing about $20,000 in each unit. We've put in new carpets, windows' and HVAC," Close said Oct. 2

Whitehall first filed a complaint against Woodcliff Condominiums in 2007. 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.

The court-appointed receiver changed several times before the city sought a demolition order, and various investors have purchased units Oleander once owned.

The case most recently was before Municipal Judge Teresa Liston, a visiting judge hearing the case for Hale because he had an unrelated conflict of interest with a party to the case.

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