Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sherman Hills fines cut nearly in half

Owners of troubled apartment complex will pay city $17,500

February 05. 2014 11:27PM

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WILKES-BARRE — Owners of the Sherman Hills apartment complex agreed to pay the city a reduced fine for violations of the rental ordinance during a five-month period last year.

The two sides reached a final figure of $17,500, a little more than half of the $33,000 that the city levied in September, rather than continue to contest the amount in court.

Attorney Andrew Bigda of Forty Fort, representing owner Sherman Hills Realty LLC of Brooklyn, N.Y., said Wednesday there was a dispute over what was owed and disagreement with some of the alleged violations between May and September.

“The resolution was a negotiated compromise to avoid the high costs and uncertainty of continued litigation,” Bigda said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

The city should be receiving payment within the next day or so, he said.

In addition, the owners have a system in place “to better comply with the ordinance,” Bigda said.

The ordinance requires rental units to be inspected bi-annually and when there is a turnaround of tenants.

“I am pleased that Sherman Hills is now following the provisions of the rental ordinance,” said Mayor Tom Leighton in a prepared statement. “We will continue to exercise vigilant oversight of this facility in the months to come.”

City inspectors have been going to the sprawling complex off Coal Street several times a month to complete inspections and the property owner has been in compliance, he said.

The mayor also touted the fine as “the largest amount collected on record for this type of violation and is an admission of guilt.”

City spokeswoman Liza Prokop said the city often negotiates with defendants after they have been cited for ordinance violations. “We do this in an effort to resolve matters more quickly, rather than have them lingering in the judicial system for months or even years,” she said.

The 344-unit, low-income housing complex drew plenty of attention last year due to shootings, drug deals and violent crimes that the city and a specially formed task force said was due to lax oversight by the owner and its manager, Park Management of Brooklyn, N.Y.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also issued a report that called the management “unsatisfactory” resulting in life-threatening security issues for tenants. HUD paid nearly $2 million to house tenants at Sherman Hills.

The owners of the complex responded to HUD’s report last year and also appeared before Wilkes-Barre City Council on Dec. 19 to explain the improvements and upgrades to increase security. The plans included:

• Constructing an 8-foot-high fence around the complex.

• Closing the North Sherman Street entrance.

• Limiting access to emergency vehicles and having a guard station at the main entrance on North Empire Court to be staffed around the clock.

• Adding other security measures, including having an armed guard patrolling the grounds for 10 to 12 hours a day, improved lighting and security cameras, registering visitors and limiting their length of stay.

The plans are to be discussed by the city’s Zoning Hearing Board at its 4:30 p.m. meeting on Feb. 19 at City Hall.

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