Whitehall will pay almost $9 million to purchase Woodcliff Condominiums after the city and the Woodcliff Condominium Unit Owners Association reached a purchase agreement that ended a decade-long court battle.
Whitehall City Council on May 15, with only an explanation from City Attorney Michael Bivens, passed authorizing legislation for the city to pay the receiver of Woodcliff $8,866,221.
The sparse discussion May 15 belied the city’s 11-year battle in the Environmental Division of Franklin County Municipal Court against Woodcliff concerning the city’s complaints about its condition.
No Woodcliff owners addressed council, but several levied criticism at previous meetings about the city’s tactics to acquire the property.
The action of City Council followed a May 14 meeting of the owners association at the Whitehall branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, where members voted 172-77 to accept the city’s offer to buy the 317-unit complex at the northeast corner of North Hamilton Road and East Broad Street.
The purchase agreement ends the city’s attempt to appropriate the property by eminent domain based on the premise that the property -- located at the northeast corner of North Hamilton Road and East Broad Street -- is a nuisance.
“The city maintains that certain nuisance conditions remain in Woodcliff, including defective drainage and plumbing, resulting in unclean and unsanitary conditions,” Bivens said.
In addition to blight, the city maintains -- and has documented in court filings -- that Woodcliff accounted for 858 calls for police service in 2017, including five reports of shots fired, six for a person with a gun and 30 calls for a wanted person.
“The offer to purchase and the acceptance of that offer by all interested parties is a fair and final resolution to abate the Woodcliff Condominium property as a blighted area.”
However, several condo owners disagree.
“It’s shockingly horrible,” said John Marette, who last year bought two units at $30,000 each.
Based on the distribution list -- a table of payouts the receiver will issue to property owners -- Marette will receive $15,450 for each unit.
Marette, though JRM Rentals LLC, said he is leasing the units for $775 and $795 a month, respectively.
“I bought them as an investment and they are in good condition,” said Marette, adding the city never contacted him about any issues with the property.
Marette criticized the payouts for being based on time or purchase rather than condition.
“Anyone who bought after 2011 is getting a lot less than they paid,” Marette said.
Marette also questioned why he was not made aware of the city’s dispute with Woodcliff when he and others purchased units.
“I’m fighting with my title company about it,” Marette said.
According to the distribution list, owners of units purchased in 2009, 2010 or 2011 are receiving $35,000 or $45,000 for each unit, a majority of which are owned by WC Management LLC.
There are a few exceptions. Other units Woodcliff Management owns and those owned by other limited-liability companies and purchased after 2011 also are receiving $35,000.
But the distribution list generally indicates a descending amount of buyouts for the most recent purchase dates, with owners who purchased this year receiving as little as $14,450.
Original dates of purchase were “a quantitative factor” in determining the disbursement of the $8.86 million, Whitehall Mayor Kim Maggard said.
Ken and Cheryl Horn purchased a four-unit condominium in December 2016 for $64,000.
Cheryl Horn said she was aware the city had filed a complaint but believed it was limited to the owners association.
“I never in a million years thought we would lose our building,” Horn said.
According to the distribution list, the Horns will receive $64,000 for the unit -- the amount they paid a little more than a year ago.
But, Horn said, they will lose the $60,000 invested to repair the fire-damaged unit that included new plumbing, a new roof, gutters, sidings and windows.
The Horns filed building permits with the city for the repairs.
“They must have had quite a chuckle about someone putting all this money into something that was going to be bulldozed," Cheryl Horn said.Ken and Cheryl Horn purchased this four-unit condominium in the 4900 block of East Broad Street for $64,000 and invested an equal amount to repair it. The Horns are being offered $64,000 for the property after a majority of the Woodcliff Condominium Unit Owners Association agreed to sell to the city to prevent eminent domain.
Horn acknowledged that real-estate investment is a risk and property owners are obligated to perform due diligence, “but we never got any notice of any kind” concerning the city’s continuing court-battle with the owners association, nor did it appear on tax bills.
“By March, we realized just how serious it was, (but) it was too late in the game,” said Horn, adding she believes members of the owners association and those who own the greatest number of units were made aware during continuing negotiations with the city.
Whitehall first filed a complaint against Woodcliff Condominiums in July 2007.
In February 2008, an agreed entry in Municipal Court, at a time when the defendant Thomas Olander owned 211 of the 317 units, declared the property a public nuisance.
The first of a string of receivers was appointed in January 2009 and the case remained active, including orders to demolish units that were eventually stayed.
In the ensuing years, many of the Woodcliff units were purchased as investments and the conditions of the units became disparate.
“We’ve been working to make things better for 11 years and it is still a public nuisance in our opinion,” Development Director Zach Woodruff said in March when the city introduced legislation to appropriate the property.
According to the agreed entry, a hearing on the distribution of proceeds is scheduled for June 28 to consider any objections concerning the distribution that are filed by May 29.
A final appealable order is scheduled to be issued June 28, which includes the withdrawal or dismissal of myriad complaints and cross-complaints concerning multiple parties filed during the past decade.
Upon taking possession of the property, the city intends to allow any tenant to remain residing through the term of any lease entered into prior to the filing of the order, and 12 months for any owner to relocate, according to the agreed entry.
Municipal Court Judge Daniel Hawkins and multiple parties signed the order April 30.
While the order has a financial impact on Horn, she has equal concern for the tenants of Woodcliff.
Horn said the first tenant moved into the unit, a single mother, only at the start of February.
“Whitehall is getting rid of middle-income housing,” Horn said.
The city’s successful effort to purchase Woodcliff mirrors that of the Commons at Royal Landing, a former 42-building, 270-unit apartment complex at the southwest corner of South Hamilton Road and East Broad Street, cater-cornered from Woodcliff.
The city levied the same complaints about code violations and calls for police service against the Commons at Royal Landing before the city and its New Jersey-based owners reached an agreement for the city to purchase it for $5 million.
The city completed demolition earlier this year and construction will begin soon for a $50 million mixed-use development to be known as Norton Crossing.
“We expect construction (of Norton Crossing) to begin at the end of summer or early fall,” Woodruff said.
Norton Crossing is planned to include a pavilion, a water fountain, public green space, landscaping and park benches, according to early renderings of the project.
City officials haven’t made clear future plans for Woodcliff, but Maggard confirmed the city plans to demolish the site.
The city will issue bonds to finance the $8.8 million purchase, Maggard said.