City Owns Two Condos
In December 2004, the city took ownership of a basement in the former Tepper’s department store building, which was redeveloped with commercial space on the first floor and with 75 affordable housing apartments on floors above.
The basement had been proposed as a possible senior center, but seniors were having none of it. Seniors had also rejected politicians’ suggestions that they occupy the former armory at Leland and East Seventh Street. They wanted a brand-new center of their own design.
The problem was that politicians had sought a nearly half-million dollar grant sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg for the senior center, but it was tied to the Tepper’s site. After seniors rejected the site, alternate plans called for a police communications center, city offices, an alternate City Council meeting site and more. To date, nothing has been situated in the basement, but the grant was expended just before it expired to create what former City Administrator Marc Dashield called “a plain vanilla box.”
Meanwhile, condo fees were accruing.
Asked about the situation now, developer Larry Regan said the amount owed was not that much, but payment would help the company accomplish certain city requirements, including improvements to a grassy lot on Somerset Street.
“We both have objectives we need to fulfill,” Regan said.
At Monday’s City Council meeting, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said the city was at an “impasse of sorts” with the developer.
More than five years have elapsed since the city took possession of the basement. The city has committed another $345,000 to improving the space, yet years of talks have not led to payment of the condo fees.
Even if the developer does not want to make an issue of it, the condo fees represent a debt that at some point must be paid.
The fine points of the city being a condo owner deserve further discussion. As Councilwoman Linda Carter pointed out Monday, condo fees can be increased or may even double.
“And we’re right back where we started,” Carter said.
After the city’s 10-year lease on space at 305 East Front Street expired in 1999, the rent began to escalate from $66,333 annually to more than $100,000. The condo fees at the new location will be $33,000 annually.