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Greenfield - The developer's decision to build the rest of the 180-unit Greenfield Highlands project as condominiums but rent them as apartments has triggered cries of foul from neighbors.

Michael Beckemeier is one of them. He lives on 110th Street a block down from the development at 4380 S. 110th St. When the project was given city approval, the developer Ener-Con Companies of Greenfield had assured neighbors that the project would always be condos, never apartments, he said. Indeed, apartments are ruled out in the project's development agreement with the city.

Between the 10 years or so when Ener-Con received Greenfield Common Council approval for the project and today, the bottom dropped out of the condo market and Ener-Con wants to convert the units to apartments, Alicia Hurst, Ener-Con spokeswoman said. The developer has a legal opinion that it can build the units as condominiums and rent them as apartments, she said. That is because the condo owners are allowed to rent out their units, under the Greenfield Highlands by-laws, Hurst said.

"It's a maneuver in the boldest sense," Beckemeier said. "Who will call them on it? That's the great debate right now."

Hands tied

It won't be the city, said Mayor Michael Neitzke. "There's nothing the city can legally do to prevent a private property owner from renting or leasing their property."

It's like a homeowner renting out their home, he said.

"This is based on legal counsel both internal and external," Neitzke said.

Apartments instead of condos is not what the agreement called for, he acknowledged.

"It's not within the spirit of the agreement, but there is nothing we could put into the agreement preventing them from renting," Neitzke said. The city's hands are tied as long as the units are built as condos each with separate utilities, he said.

If condominium by-laws allow owners to rent their units, the city can't interfere with those by-laws, he said.

Why ask?

Ener-Con didn't need city approval to rent the units, Hurst said. It planned to go to the council anyway to clean up some minor points in the development agreement, so asking for city approval to convert to apartments was added on, Hurst said. Ener-Con has now formally withdrawn its request to convert to apartments and decided it doesn't need those minor changes, either, she said.

With the failure to win council approval of converting to apartments, neighbors may get what they want anyway, if the condo market picks up, Hurst said. Ener-Con still intends to sell the units as condos, she said.

The foundations were put in two weeks ago for the five remaining 30-unit buildings and footings were poured for some of the five, she said. All should be done in 18 to 24 months, Hurst said, depending on weather.

Even if the units remain apartments, neighbors shouldn't worry about tenants becoming problem neighbors because income and employment checks are made and because the rents are high for what she called the high-end apartments.

High rents

The units in the one building that has been finished are renting at $1,190 starting for one-bedrooms and $1,700 to $2,000 for two-bedrooms, Hurst said. There is a waiting list for the one-bedroom and a den units. Every unit has a bathroom and a half bath.

However, Beckemeier called labeling the apartments as high-end is just "market-speak."

"The units are nice, but not what you would call special," he said. The rents will fall, he predicted.

The city could end up with the short end of the stick, while the developer makes a profit, Beckemeier said.

"While I can respect the initiative and investment it takes to get such a project done, it is a risk the developer alone should be taking, not the residents of the area and the city at large," he told an Ener-Con representative at the common council meeting on the conversion.

"The developer has done nothing to warrant a bail out. We owe nothing to the developer. The developer however needs to deliver on its original agreements, or sell it to someone who can," he said.

Beckemeier also was critical of some officials' characterization of the neighbors' opposition to apartments as being against renters. The only point neighbors were trying to make was that renters are more transient than condominium owners, he said. They tend to be less bound to the community, consequently less interested in local affairs and be less likely to engage in civic involvement, he said. Apartment dwellers usually represent a higher drain on city services than condo dwellers, he said.

Beckemeier also bridled at the description by some of his neighbors that the area as blighted and that going ahead with the project would alleviate that.

"Spring Mall is the definition of blighted," he said, not Greenfield Highlands.

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