Demolition is imminent

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Carolyn Roy | News Editor
The owner of the Summertree Apartments did some fast talking but it did not convince the City Council to change its mind about condemning the crumbling structures on Second Street.
At the City Council meeting Monday, general partner in the apartments, Verlyn Foley, president of VOB Development of Alpharetta, Ga., and her attorney, Robert Parker, appeared via a Zoom video conference to plead their case to stop the final vote on the condemnation of the structures. After the discussion, the council voted unanimously to condemn the structures because they are unsafe and could not be repaired to meet the City’s building code.
If it weren’t such a serious matter, it would have been humorous to hear Parker ask the council for another 30 days to work on the apartments. He acknowledged that they are eyesores as well as public safety and health concerns. He asked that the owner be given 30 days to get a new contractor and “get him on the ground and get back on track.” He blamed the first contractors for walking off the job and then the second contractors leaving because of litigation.
Mayor Ronnie Williams Jr. asked Parker, “Why now and not earlier?” He said the project had a year to start but nothing had happened.

This article published in the March 31, 2022, print edition

Foley offered excuses for the delay saying that her financing source, Sterling Bank, was not a developer. She also acknowledged that nothing had been done to rehabilitate the structures. Foley said that Sterling Bank meant well but she now needed more money.
Foley said she felt the project would have gone better if the bank had engaged another developer who had better connections with the La. Housing Authority, the agency that offered tax credits for the rehabilitation.
She wanted more time to explore bond financing, return the tax credits and reapply for more credits under a different program. She said that would take two to three months to get approval and expedited funding.
Williams was direct in his response to Foley asking her what she could do in 30 days that Sterling Bank had not done in “365 days.” Williams said he had gladly led the charge to stop the condemnation because the city needed affordable housing. Yet, the bank, having been given 90 days and then 180 days, showed no progress with the fencing taken down and windows not boarded up. “We can only do so much. We can’t make it work,” Williams said.
Councilperson-at-Large Betty Sawyer-Smith said the project received extensions of over 90 days from its request in November, and the council had been more than fair in allowing time to get more financing. “We don’t need to sit on it any longer.”
Verlyn Foley, left, president of VOB Development of Alpharetta, Ga., and her attorney, Robert Parker, appeared via a Zoom video conference to plead their case to stop the City Council’s final vote on the condemnation.
Photo by Carolyn Roy

Councilman Eddie Harrington said he had been dealing with the condition of the apartments for more than half a decade when the last administration passed the first condemnation ordinance. His most convincing statement was, “We never give our own residents this much time. Our own residents who pay taxes never get this much time. Enough is enough.”
Harrington said the owner had years to get the project done and the situation was getting ridiculous.
Councilman Chris Petite said he too stood in support of the project but the City had seen no movement. “We should move forward.”
Councilperson Rosemary Elie said she would love to see more housing but the owner was given more time than needed.
Planning and Zoning Director Shontrell Roque said that her concerns were the same as those of the council. In addition, the building has been open to the elements and mold and weeds are present. People are living in the buildings, the fence is gone, the roof leaks and the balconies are barely attached. Roque said a good strong wind could blow the balconies down.
Roque said it is almost summertime and the buildings present a threat to children who will be walking past on their way to the ball field and swimming pool. “We recommend this structure not be allowed to continue to stand.”
Mary Striegel, who lives at 329 Poete, has been a historic preservationist for 27 years. She said that when the project first began, materials were stolen from the site. It has been open to the elements for five years and costs to rehabilitate the apartments has grown exponentially. “I don’t see what progress could be done in 30 days,” Striegel said. “I ask that you condemn it.”