Advocates of planned redevelopment in southern Highland Park learned last week that the city intends to put a key parcel of vacant land back on the market. Instead of extending an expired contract with the nonprofit group planning to purchase the property, the city will now sell it to the highest bidder.
Two years ago, at the urging of the Highland Park Community Development Corp., the city bought the land off Matthews Street then home to the notorious Matthews Heights apartments with the understanding that the CDC would soon buy the property for redevelopment.
Since the low-income apartments were demolished in July 2003, the CDC has been working on a proposal, per a development agreement it signed with the city, to build 39 Victorian-style homes in a condominium development, each of which would sell for about $220,000. The CDC had lined up lenders, engineers and a contractor for the development, called the Pointe at Chestnut Hill.
But while funding was being negotiated, the CDC ran out of time. The organization asked for a six-month extension, a stipulation allowed for in the development agreement, advocates say. The city denied the extension and announced last week it would sell to the highest bidder.
"It's unbelievable. It's absolutely unbelievable," says City Councilwoman Ellen Robertson. Not only will this hurt the CDC, she says, but no other nonprofits will seek to enter into development agreements with the city "if they're going to be subject to that crazy stuff."
"Shoot, I wouldn't," she continues. "And I wouldn't encourage anyone else to."
Robertson says she'll ask council to step in and see if things can be changed. She was heartened last week, however, to hear that the city would intervene to stop the decay of an apartment complex a half-mile from the vacant land.
Since February, the Northridge and Carrington Gardens apartments at 1st Avenue and Dove Street have been a gutted, trash-covered eyesore for area residents. The brick buildings' gaping windows make the place "an open hotel" for vagrants and prostitutes, Robertson says.
The apartments don't yet qualify as a hotbed of crime, as police report only minor offenses there a few drug arrests and property violations, says Richmond Police spokeswoman Kirsten Nelson.
Nevertheless, "we're on a short fuse with that property," Patrick Roberts, who represents the city administration, told City Council at its last meeting. The city has since gotten the out-of-state owner to board the buildings, remove most of the debris and fence part of the property. Melissa Scott Sinclair
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