Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Refunds offered for delayed condo project

Ecco Park, near Takoma Metro, is on hold until new financing is found

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
Ecco Park, a planned condominium project near the Takoma Park, Washington, D.C., border, has been put on hold. Investors withdrew commitments due to concerns about the real estate market. Those who have made down payments have received their money back.
The developer of a planned ‘‘eco-friendly” 85-unit condominium complex near the Takoma Metro station that was scheduled to open this year has postponed construction and offered termination agreements to tenants who made down payments.

Bethesda-based SGA companies announced in 2006 that it would build Ecco Park at 235 Carroll Ave. on the site of an old gas station in the Washington, D.C., section of Old Takoma.

The building was to be a four-story complex built with recyclable materials and featuring retail space, an environmentally friendly green roof and on-site parking, as well as yoga classes and collectively owned cars for tenants.

But almost two years later, construction has been delayed indefinitely, according to a company spokeswoman.

‘‘The project is coming,” said Elizabeth Campbell, a spokeswoman for SGA companies. ‘‘It’s just not coming when promised.”

Campbell said some of the project’s investors have withdrawn their commitments due to concerns about the real estate market. As a result, Ecco Park is being redesigned with less expensive materials, and everyone who signed a purchasing agreement has accepted an offer for money back plus interest, she said.

‘‘In the meantime, alternative forms of financing have to be researched, and it’s not fair to hold people’s deposits when you can’t deliver,” Campbell said. ‘‘... We’re looking for private financial funding.”

The new design calls for using wood rather than metal for studs in the floors and walls, Campbell said, adding that metal studs are ‘‘too expensive and unnecessary” for a four-story building.

‘‘It’s being redesigned to reduce the cost of construction and facilitate a new financial arrangement,” she said. ‘‘It’s basically going for an entire redesign.”

The building will look the same from the outside, she said. Prices at Ecco Park had ranged from more than $200,000 for a studio condominium to almost $700,000 for a three-bedroom unit.

Takoma Park resident Steve Davies said he and his mother each made down payments of about $13,000 on apartments in the fall of 2006 and hadn’t heard any news until late March, when the company offered a refund with interest, which they both accepted.

Campbell would not say how many prospective owners had made down payments.

Davies said he was glad to have his check returned after a year and a half. ‘‘[My mother] had been concerned about it for a while,” he said.

Though the site is just outside the Maryland border, it lies along a street frequently traveled by Takoma Park residents who use the Metro station and shop in the Takoma neighborhood of the District.

Takoma Park City Councilman Josh Wright (Ward 1), who represents the Maryland neighborhood along Old Takoma’s Maryland-District line, said he would like to work with SGA to make sure the site doesn’t remain undeveloped.

‘‘I think it’s quite an eyesore,” he said. ‘‘And everyone I’ve talked to in the community, myself included, really would like to see the development go forward. It’s the type of development everybody in Takoma Park is supportive of. ... If it’s not going to be developed, we’re sympathetic to the fact that it might cost them money, but it does need to be kept in a presentable shape.”

Campbell said SGA still plans to get Ecco Park off the ground.

‘‘The owner is trying to get it built and he will.”