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The Record, Thursday, March 29, 2001

Heights apartment tenants losing battle

By YUNG KIM
Staff Writer

HASBROUCK HEIGHTS -- At this time of year under normal circumstances, Carol Isello would be getting ready to plant flowers around the building while her husband, John, prepared to sow the seeds for a vegetable garden.

On average nights residents sip coffee in each other's living rooms and in the summers they share sunsets.

When Novia Palmer needed help carrying a treadmill into her apartment, John Isello was there.

"We look out for each other," John Isello said. "We have barbecues. We pick up each other's mail."

They are attached to the community they have carved out for themselves, but the property on which their building stands is needed for a civic project.

Isello, her husband, and other residents of the seven-apartment complex at 320 Boulevard love living there, but she can see the writing on the walls -- the same walls that borough officials want to tear down. They probably will have to leave.

At first, residents were fighting to stay.

The Borough Council voted unanimously Tuesday to introduce an ordinance to condemn the apartment house and two adjacent buildings to make way for the proposed borough complex that will house municipal offices, a senior center, and library.

"They are taking my home for a flagpole, bench, and a bunch of offices," Cindy Isello said.

In December the council had rejected condemnation, vowing instead to acquire properties through friendly sales. The council will vote on the condemnation April 10.

The Borough Council also voted to buy the property at 214 Central Ave. for $350,000 and also passed a resolution to provide almost $1,200 in relocation money to one of the tenants of 320 Boulevard who applied for it. The other tenants are eligible, but they have to apply.

Mayor William Torre said every effort was made to negotiate a "fair market value" sale price for the properties marked for condemnation, but the parties could not work out an agreement.

"We could not go out and just spend taxpayer dollars," Torre said.

The owners of the properties have agreed to sell. Condemnation will allow the borough and the property owners to determine the purchase price through a court appointed appraiser, said Borough Administrator Michael Kronyak.

"[This] is really because we can't agree on a price," Kronyak said. "If we can't come to a business decision, we will let a third party do it. This is not a hostile condemnation."

But property owners and tenants say it is.

Barbara Maltese owns the seven-apartment complex at 320 Boulevard with her husband and two other couples. She said the tenants notified her of the condemnation discussion, not the town.

"It was a shocker to us," Maltese said. "The wheels have been in motion, but they don't own the land."

Maltese said the co-owners had no intention of selling. Borough officials, however, contacted them in January with an offer far below the owners's estimate of the building's value. The owners have not heard from the borough since, Maltese said.

"The offer they are making us is outlandish," Maltese said. "We would have made more if we put our money in a 2 percent savings account."

The tenants were sent letters this month saying that the borough would provide more than $3,000 in assistance for each tenant to move out of the building. But most of the apartment tenants don't want to move.

"Just because we live in an apartment it doesn't make us second-class citizens," said Carolyn Claussen, who lives with her mother.

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