City, condo association at odds again
The smoldering embers between the city of Whitehall and a condo association appear to be catching fire again.
Woodcliff Condominiums representatives and Whitehall officials remain at odds concerning the fate of the residential units at the northeast corner of East Broad Street and North Hamilton Road.
The 317-unit residential complex has been the subject of legal proceedings since 2007, when the city first sought to have the property declared as a public nuisance.
Judge Harland Hale, of the Environmental Division of Franklin County Municipal Court, declared Woodcliff a nuisance in February 2008 and divested its former majority owner of oversight, naming a receiver for the property.
Since then, three different receivers have been named and several agreements have been extended for ordered improvements at the site.
Most recently, in November 2012, visiting Franklin County Municipal Judge Theresa Liston negotiated a settlement in which the Woodcliff Condominium Association had agreed to make scheduled improvements.
Whitehall had sought to demolish the structures as a public nuisance, but city attorney Mike Shannon on Nov. 5, 2012, said the city had obtained an "enforceable plan" with "an aggressive timeline" and agreed to suspend its pursuit of a demolition order.
The city appears to have resumed its effort to close Woodcliff Condominiums.
Steve Close, president of the Woodcliff Condominium Association, appealed to Whitehall council members June 4 to visit the site and see the improvements.
"Substantial time and energy has been invested," said Close, who attended the meeting upon learning that council members had a brief executive session prior to the public meeting June 4.
Shannon said June 6 that the purpose of the executive session was a status update for council members concerning Woodcliff Condominiums. Shannon said the city had sought a conference with Liston late last month to communicate the city's concerns with noncompliance with the November 2012 court-ordered schedule of improvements and repairs.
"During the past two weeks, concern developed on our part that terms were not being met," Shannon said June 6.
During the June 4 meeting, Close told council members repairs were ahead of schedule, having been made to 94 units. He pointed out that only 60 had been required to be completed by June 1. Those improvements included repairing or replacing doors, carpet, floors, furnaces and roofs, Close said.
Since 2008, the condo association has invested about $2.5 million in purchasing condominiums from receivers and other individual owners and has been repairing the property.
Since November, Close said, the association has obtained 101 occupancy permits, indicating the city's own inspectors have certified that the property meets safety- and health-code standards.
The association is negotiating the purchase of an additional 17 units, Close said, and, if permitted, would strive to acquire all 317 units.
Private investors are funding the purchase and renovations of new units, Close said, and occupancy is nearly 94 percent -- the regional average for occupancy rates.
"There is growing demand to live here," Close said, adding that about 900 people currently reside at the condominiums.
The effort, however, has been interrupted by the city's challenge, he said.
Shannon said he doesn't believe improvements progressing as quickly and smoothly as advertised.
"We dispute (the figures Close provided at the June 4 meeting)," Shannon said June 10.
Shannon said according to the latest receiver, who acts as an arm of the city, progress at the site is not at a level that meets the city's approval.
According to Close, the city has made an offer to purchase Woodcliff Condominiums, an action the association is willing to consider if fair.
Whitehall officials would not confirm whether any such offer has been made.
Close has opined that the city's legal efforts to close Woodcliff Condominiums stem in part from a desire for commercial and retail development at the site.
"We understand what the city would like to do ... but they need to be fair to the residents," said Alex Close, the son of Steve Close and a board member on the Woodcliff Condominium Association. "The city needs to come up with a fair market value rather than try to have it cited as a nuisance to obtain it for less money."
Shannon said June 6 that the city has agreed to Liston's suggestion of a 60-day stay to allow the city and the condo association to reach an agreement. That 60-day period ends July 25.
Whitehall development director Zachary Woodruff said although he could not comment because of pending legal matters, the goal of the city is to abate the nuisance.
"The city's intent, regardless of anything else, is, we want the nuisance abated and have wanted this nuisance abated since it first went to court six years ago," he said.