Whitehall City Council is expected to appropriate almost $11 million next week to cover expenses associated with the city's purchase of the Woodcliff Condominiums, the 317-unit complex at the northeast corner of East Broad Street and North Hamilton Road.
Appropriating legislation is scheduled for a third and final reading at the next council meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4, at Whitehall City Hall, 360 S. Yearling Road.
Council will consider three separate ordinances: one appropriates $9 million for the purchase of the property; the others appropriate $1 million and $725,000, respectively, all through the issuance of bonds for the costs associated with the acquisition, Whitehall Mayor Kim Maggard said.
The sale stems from a court-ordered sale by Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Dan Hawkins.
"No one is being forced to move now," said Development Director Zach Woodruff, adding that existing leases will be honored and the city will cooperate with owners who need to relocate.
It will take several months, Woodruff said, before the city closes on the parcel.
"But the order allows us to begin the contract process (to purchase Woodcliff)," Woodruff said.
That order was issued Aug. 17 by Hawkins and ended, with the exception of owners who appeal the awarded amounts for their property, an 11-year court battle between Whitehall and Woodcliff Condominiums.
During that time, three municipal court judges have overseen the complaints and four court-appointed receivers have been involved.
In his order, Hawkins wrote that "history has shown there is no other viable way to enforce the court's order to permanently abate the public nuisance conditions at Woodcliff Condominiums" than to order the sale of the entirety of the property to Whitehall.
But some property owners say the process was less than equitable.
Robert Broadley, treasurer of the Woodcliff Condominium Unit Owners Association and owner of multiple units, said the buyout schedule values properties on a descending pay scale depending on when owners bought the property rather than its current value.
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 will receive $35,000.
But the distribution list generally indicates a descending amount of money based on purchase dates, with owners who purchased this year receiving as little as $15,450.
Original dates of purchase were "a quantitative factor" in determining the disbursement of the $8.9 million purchase, Maggard said in May.
Fifty-six different property owners disputed the amounts they were to receive as part of the agreed purchase that was ordered April 30; a final appealable order was issued Aug. 17.
On May 14, the condo owners association voted 172-77 to accept the city's offer to buy the property, ending the city's bid to appropriate it via eminent domain based on the premise that the property is an unabated nuisance.
Whitehall first filed a complaint against Woodcliff Condominiums on July 12, 2007, seeking injunctive relief, and on Feb. 4, 2008, an agreed entry declared the property a public nuisance.
City officials, while continuing to negotiate in court, said the property remained a source of code violations and generated a considerable number of calls for police service.
There were 856 calls for police service to the property in 2017, Woodruff said.
"Police were going there more than two times each day last year on average," he said.
Still, owners say they are paying for the sins of others.
"Can you imagine just being an 'interested party' to the sale of your home by your homeowners association? These are condominiums, not apartments," said Cheryl Horn, who owns a four-unit building on East Broad Street.
Ken and Cheryl Horn purchased the building in December 2016 for $64,000.
Horn said she was aware the city had filed a complaint but believed it was limited to the owners association.
"Never in a million years did we ever think a judge would rule for the city to take our building for pennies on the dollar based on a nuisance lawsuit against another property owner," Horn said.
Oke Millett, a Canadian citizen who lives in Papua New Guinea, said he purchased two condominium units in 2013 for investment purposes and only learned of the court complaints earlier this year.
He is being offered $19,450 for each unit. They were purchased for $36,666 each, according to court records, but Millett said his total investment was $100,000.
The settlement, he said, is "devastating" and he fears even if he were successful in obtaining more money, "the lawyers would get all the benefit."
According to the distribution list, the Horns will receive $18,452 for each of the four units, slightly greater than the $16,000 they were awarded for each earlier this year.
Hawkins' final order included adjustments to some of the payouts to owners.
Individual owners will be paid for the units based on court-approved disbursements, according to Joe Durham, an attorney with Eastman and Smith who has represented Whitehall in its action against Woodcliff Condominiums, but those amounts can yet be appealed.
While the new order barely exceeds the purchase price, Horn said they will lose the $60,000 that was invested to repair the fire-damaged unit, including new plumbing, a new roof, gutters, siding and windows.
"We have two units about 75 percent complete (and another is occupied) but stopped working on them in March after finding out about the seriousness of this court case," she said.
Learning about their fate has been "haphazard" at best, Horn said.
"We have not received any information from the receiver or the courts," but instead learned from another property owner, said Horn, adding she has consulted with an attorney but not taken any action.
"Everything that has been done (concerning Woodcliff) has been an open process ... notices were sent to owners and stakeholders," Woodruff said.