Affordable homes scrapped

Builder notes taxes in choosing apartments instead of condos

May 14, 2006|By NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON | NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON,SUN REPORTER

Erika Middleton had done everything right. She was working full time, was saving instead of spending and had qualified for a rare, moderately priced condominium going up in a plum new location: 1901 West.

After plunking down a $1,000 deposit, she signed a contract on a two-bedroom, two-bathroom model offered for $179,500. She was looking forward to moving out of her parents' city home in late August or early September.

"I was very excited with still being able to live in Annapolis, and I just thought it was the opportunity of a lifetime," she said. "I was just waiting to move in."

But for Middleton, 26, move-in day has been put on indefinite hold.

The developer of 1901 West, Wood Partners, has decided to convert the units to apartments, noting the more costly tax consequences of building condos.

The surprise announcement has shaken Middleton and 26 other buyers - 13, including Middleton, qualified for units through the city's affordable housing program - and city leaders who had been looking forward to increasing Annapolis' stock of affordable housing.

"I was so upset I actually started crying," said Middleton. "I didn't expect this to happen, especially if I was keeping everything up on my end."

She received a letter Wednesday from Wood offering the option of renting one of the units at 1901 West, but she is not interested.

Dean Wilson, a spokesman for Wood Partners, declined to comment Friday.

Housing prices have soared in Annapolis, reaching an average price of over a half-million dollars last year. The city passed a law in 2004 that requires developers of new subdivisions to allocate 12 percent of units as "work force housing." At least 6 percent of new or rehabilitated rental units must be set aside.

Wood's change cut the number of affordable homes in the 300-unit project from 36 to 18.

Theresa Wellman of the Department of Planning and Zoning said that the city will meet with developers of 1901 West next week to determine how to administer those 18 rental units.

"It's a great program, it's worked in other jurisdictions, so we'd like it to work in Annapolis," she said. "We're trying to do everything we can."

The complex, built on the site of a former lumberyard at Chinquapin Round Road and West Street, includes a fitness center, sun deck and movie theater. The luxury apartments feature stainless-steel appliances, maple cabinets and granite countertops.

Middleton, a registered nurse, still intends to pursue homeownership but doesn't expect that she will be able to find anything through the city's program in the near future.

"Nothing is up and coming, so who knows how long it's going to be for something to happen like this again," she said.

Alderwoman Classie Gillis Hoyle of Ward 3 said she and Mayor Ellen O. Moyer were discussing how to get other properties on the market more quickly. The mayor is eyeing Landings at Spa Creek, Hoyle said, to determine whether developers of that complex would be willing to sell condominiums at a reduced rate under the city's program.

Moyer, who could not be reached for comment Friday, is also in talks with the city attorney to see whether the city was taken advantage of, Hoyle said.

"If we did anything special to help them along the way, I think they owe us for that, because now we don't have anything," Hoyle said. "But I don't know that they owe us anything other than a moral obligation."

Hoyle, who sponsored the affordable-housing legislation, said she was disappointed with the recent developments but optimistic that the program will ultimately result in increased homeownership.

"It's unfortunate that it didn't happen with them, but now we have to step back. Hopefully some of the individuals who wanted to buy will rent until something else opens up," she said. "There has to be some kind of solution. We can't just walk away and see this as a disappointment for people."

nia.henderson@baltsun.com

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