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Greenfield accepts luxury apartments to replace Orchard condos

Aldermen bow to developer's assertion on housing market

June 4, 2013

Greenfield — The market just isn't there for condos anymore, but there is a niche for luxury apartments, developer Mark Wimmer, president of Wimmer Brothers Realty, has told Greenfield city officials.

With that in mind, Wimmer plans to buy out the 13 condominium owners in The Orchard condominium complex at 91st Street and Forest Home Avenue and build the remaining three buildings, previously approved for the complex in 2007, as luxury rentals.

The Orchard would then have 46 units in six buildings renting for between $1,465 and more than $2,000 a month, Wimmer said.

Keeping the project all condos would mean nothing would be built because condos aren't selling and because banks aren't lending for condo development, Wimmer said. But they are lending for apartments.

Though there was some neighborhood resistance to the plan, the Common Council recently decided to go along with the deal, given the marketplace reality for condos.

Palatable choice

"I guess we're playing the cards we're being dealt," Alderman Karl Kastner reflected following the recent council vote to allow The Orchard 46-unit to convert to apartments.

If the council vote were taken when the economy and market were different, the outcome could have been different, Kastner said.

The city and the neighbors prefer condos, he said, but it will be good to have high-value apartments added to the city's tax base, especially since the infrastructure is there and the units are marketable.

The apartments will be of the same quality as the condos.

"The quality of the project is incredible," Kastner said. "My vote was to have good quality projects completed in our city."

Mixed feelings

But the vote wasn't unanimous, with Pam Akers dissenting, and the council heard from both those who like the idea and those who don't — particularly neighboring single-family homeowners who fear their property values will be hurt.

One critic said the downturn in the condo market is the developer's problem and shouldn't be the problem of neighboring homeowners.

Wimmer said property values would be bolstered by his company buying them for what the owners paid, rather than individual owners selling at a loss to get out of an over-saturated condo market.

Prices ranged from $189,000 to $329,000, with the average of $234,000 in 2007. The last closing at The Orchard was in December 2009 and the unit sold for $133,000, or $61,000 less than the original sale price four years ago, Wimmer said.

Another homeowner worried that The Orchard wouldn't be able to attract tenants at those high rents and the top-dollar rents would drift downward to a level that undesirable tenants would move in.

But Wimmer said his company has more than 500 units with nearly 100 of them in Greenfield that are renting in the same range. The company even is building more, he said. The average family income of target tenants is $90,000, he said.

— Jane Ford-Stewart

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