Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Sale of apartments could jeopardize redevelopment plan

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The potential sale of Springhill Lake Apartments could mean the end of a proposal by the owner to redevelop the property, which worries many Greenbelt officials.

Denver-based Apartment Investment Management Company, the property owner, had proposed to tear down the 420-building complex and nearby Springhill Lake Elementary School and build 5,800 new residential units, as well as a pond.

However, should the property sell, officials are afraid those plans will not move forward.

Greenbelt Mayor Judith Davis said she does not see a new owner redeveloping the complex, which has about 10,000 residents, unless it has a significant amount of money.

‘‘I don’t see a new buyer coming in and doing anything to improve the situation there. The market is just not there right now,” Davis said. ‘‘For them to redevelop or even remodel the complex, they would have to have some deep pockets.”

But Cindy Duffy, AIMCO spokeswoman, said AIMCO, which put the property up for sale at the beginning of January, is just testing the market for potential investors.

‘‘Just because the property is for sale does not mean that it’s a predetermination of what the property is to become,” Duffy said. ‘‘[Testing the market] is a typical practice for us with our properties. There was nothing in particular that triggered the timing.”

Duffy said AIMCO would not make a decision regarding the property until all interests from potential investors are explored.

That could mean redeveloping the entire property, selling it or forming a partnership, said Greenbelt City Manager Michael McLaughlin.

City Councilwoman Leta Mach said whatever decision AIMCO makes, she hopes it is in the community’s best interest.

‘‘Everything is up in the air right now,” Mach said. ‘‘Hopefully proper maintenance, increased safety and ownership of units are available in some way.”

Davis said maintenance problems such as broken sewer pipes, collapsed ceilings and mice have been concerns previously.

In 2007, 15 fires were set at the complex between April and August. On Oct. 3, Christopher Jones, 25, of Greenbelt was arrested in connection with the arsons, which caused an estimated $1 million in property damage.

In March, more than 3,000 residents were without electricity for three days because of malfunctioning electrical wires. Pepco cut electricity to 372 apartment units so engineers could determine the problem.

On March 26, four fires were ignited by malfunctioning electrical junction boxes within less than 48 hours of each other. Those fires caused $1.8 million in property damage. Some tenants had to be relocated within the complex, while others decided to move out.

In the last10 years, AIMCO has spent $8.5 million on plumbing upgrades, roof replacements and to paint inside apartments and common areas.

Some residents, like Sheila Bennett, said they are satisfied with AIMCO and the condition of the property.

‘‘I haven’t had any problems with them. Any request that I have had has been honored,” said Bennett, 40, a six-year tenant.

But other residents would like to see new ownership because of management’s alleged slow response to tenants concerns.

‘‘I would say the relationship between management and tenants is a bad one,” said Kadija Koroma, 20. ‘‘They’ll take a couple of days to fix things and we’ve been having trouble with the washing machines and they’re still not fixed.”

Koroma, who has lived at the complex for seven years, said Springhill Lake residents have had to deal with a high crime rate and worsening living conditions during the past few years.

George Mathews, Greenbelt police spokesman, said the Springhill Lake area has the highest crime rate in the city.

In 2007, 549 crimes were committed in the Springhill Lake area according to information from Greenbelt police. The crimes included 144 motor vehicle thefts, one murder and 82 robberies.

There were 351 crimes committed in Greenbelt East, the second highest number in 2007. A total of 1,363 crimes occurred in the city that year.

Springhill Lake resident Louise Washington said she wants AIMCO to make one more investment in the complex, whether it remains or sells the property.

‘‘The only concern I have had with AIMCO is the lighting,” Washington, 42, said. ‘‘Even when [the lights] are on at night it’s like being in the dark.”

E-mail Marcus Ngbea at mngbea@gazette.net.