Plans to replace Laurel Gardens apartments raises concerns -- Gazette.Net


For Cheryl Curtis, having to move out of her apartment in the Laurel Gardens complex where she has lived for about a year would be a big financial blow.

“We need a place to live that’s less than $1,000,” Curtis said, referring to the other apartment tenants. “Every other place wants to charge more and more.”

At Monday’s City Council meeting, the council introduced a site plan that would replace the seven brick buildings — 79 units built in 1949 on the 4.75-acre property on Park Avenue, Philip Powers Drive and Nichols Drive — into 10 three-story buildings with a total of 113 two-bedroom units. The project is estimated to cost more than $10 million, though developers Laurel Realty Co. and Legend Builders said they do not have a clear timeline for when construction could start or finish.

The plan is set to come before the city planning commission at 7 p.m. Tuesday, and another public hearing before the City Council is scheduled at 7 p.m. May 30.

Curtis said she’s already looking for other apartments in Laurel, but hasn’t found anything as affordable as Laurel Gardens and isn’t sure when she’ll have to move out.

“There’s nothing concrete,” Curtis said. “I’d like to have a time frame.”

For the DiPietro family, who own Laurel Realty Co. and Laurel Gardens, the decision is based on financial need, said owner and corporate secretary Katherine DiPietro.

“We can’t afford not to [redevelop],” DiPietro said. “We lose money every month.”

There are several units, DiPietro said, with long-term tenants who pay $580 per month, including utilities. Tenants who have moved in more recently, like Curtis, are paying about $850 per month. The new units, which will have the central air conditioning and dishwashers the current units lack, will cost between $1,000 and $1,200 per month, which is slightly below average compared to other apartment listings in the city.

The company’s biggest expense, said Katherine DiPietro’s husband, former Laurel mayor Bob DiPietro, is the outdated oil heat used in the buildings’ central boiler, which makes it impossible to charge for heat and hot water based on individual units’ usage, and the costs are too high to continue to run the apartments at the current rental rates.

“It’s extremely inefficient,” he said, adding the company pays about $90,000 on oil each year. “The engineer that came out to examine it estimated that we lose about 40 percent [of the heat] out of the chimney.”

Katherine DiPietro said it would cost more to renovate the buildings than to tear them down and start over.

The DiPietros could build 96 units on the site without getting the City Council’s approval, but an ordinance passed in 2004 allows developers to increase the number of units in areas identified as in need of revitalization with the council’s permission. Laurel Gardens is in one of those areas.

Homeowners around the site said at the meeting that they were worried the additional units would put a strain on parking in the neighborhood, much of which is on the street, and would cause more traffic.

“I’m kind of hoping they could tone it down a little,” said Mark Blair, a homeowner on Philip Powers Drive, of the number of units in the proposed project.

Bob DiPietro said they would be adding off-street parking and would close off a section of Park Avenue to eliminate cut-through traffic.