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Future homeowners upset with delays

December 19, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

HAGERSTOWN - Christine Pekar says she just wants to be settled into her new home before relatives arrive for her February wedding.

The contract for the house was signed July 11, 2005, and her move-in date initially was estimated to be the following October, she said.

On Monday, Pekar and dozens of other new and future home- owners sought answers during a meeting made mandatory by their purchase of a Hagerstown Housing Authority project house.

"The whole thing is a mess," Pekar said. "There are several of us who would pull out if they could."

Housing Authority Executive Director Ted Shankle said settlement has not occurred for 10 homes in Gateway Crossing off Elgin Boulevard, while representatives of the developer said at the meeting that the number is about 20.

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No one has denied the homes took longer to build than estimated, but Shankle said the houses are nearly ready to go to settlement. But some of the future homeowners still have doubts.

"There were more problems on the second walk-through than the first," Pekar said.

In a letter from Pennrose Properties LLC, the developer acknowledged the future homeowners have concerns about quality, options pricing and treatment of homebuyers.

Four homebuyers at the meeting, which included a question-and-answer session, said communications have broken down. At least two homebuyers brought pictures, showing an entrance inaccessible to the handicapped owner, cracked trim, damaged flooring and a door frame adhered to the wall with half an inch of putty.

Pekar said she agreed to pay about $82,000 for a three-bedroom house on a "premium lot." Her deck, which was an add-on option, has repeatedly failed inspection.

The delays for people who purchased homes on Gandy Dancer Court come from stormwater management and a deal in the works for two years with transportation company CSX, Shankle said.

The agreement originally called for a tunnel to be dug under the railroad tracks, but then it was discovered the site was formerly a creosote plant where railroad ties were built.

"We got stopped even though CSX had gone through their environmental stuff," Shankle said.

The pipe was moved 1,500 feet, and Shankle maintains the earliest move-in dates for Gandy Dancer Court were estimated for August 2006. Construction began at the $70 million Gateway Crossing in 2002, with four phases providing 290 rental units and more than 60 houses for purchase.

With the project funded in part by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development HOPE VI Revitalization grant program, homeownership is seen as a stabilizing force in a primarily rental community like Gateway Crossing, Shankle said.

"We would've been the first HOPE VI project to finish if not for the CSX problem," he said.

Shankle said a turnover in staff at the project's sales office might have contributed to miscommunications about timelines, and, in the future, he would insist a manager attend meetings with homebuyers.

"We really expected people to be in their homes by Christmas," he said.

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