WHITTIER — Three City Council members have questioned whether the city should spend up to $311,000 on "amenities" for a proposed low- to moderate-priced senior citizens' housing complex in Uptown Village.
The Quaker church group developing the 75-unit complex recently submitted a list of needs to the city for the planned six-story structure, including sidewalks and curbs, a second elevator, patio trellises and balconies for the studio and one-bedroom units.
The items will not be paid for by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and now there is some question about whether the city will permit any of the $500,000 it has agreed to spend on the project to go for such items. The council will make a decision Tuesday.
The federal agency has allocated $4.2 million to build the complex, but will not pay for any structural or landscape extras, said Chuck Hise, executive director of William Penn Manor, the project developer.
"The federal government will fund a barracks-type building--a very basic, rectangular-shaped structure," Hise said. "We want to make some aesthetic and functional modifications to make the complex safer and more livable."
Hise said many of the modifications, such as widening streets and landscaping parkways, are required by the city and must be included before Whittier officials will approve the project. Therefore, he wants the city to pay for the bulk of those improvements out of the $500,000 that the council approved last August for the project.
The group is not required to repay the city unless it sells the property in the future, Hise said.
Several council members say they approved the spending with the understanding it would only be used to help purchase the one-acre site on the corner of Philadelphia Street between Friends and Washington Avenues.
A Santa Ana-based company, Hise said, has agreed to sell the parcel to the church group for about $500,000. He said HUD's $4.2-million grant is more than enough to buy the site and build a complex without the improvements.
Because the federal grant may cover both construction and real estate costs, Hise believes that the council should let his group use the $500,000 to pay for extras like a second elevator, windows at the end of hallways and electric front doors. He contends that the loan agreement allows the group to use the money as it sees fit to make improvements.
But several council members, including Sabina Schwab, disagree.
Extent of Participation
"Our intent was to assist them in obtaining the land. But we never committed to all of these amenities," said Schwab, who, along Councilman Lee Strong and Gene Chandler, expressed concern about the extent of the city's participation in the project.
"There is a need in this city for a project like this," Schwab said, "but the list (of improvements) they submitted to us was a bit overwhelming."
At the council's request, Hise said he will return to the council at its Tuesday meeting and identify the items it needs most. The council will then consider the list and may decide whether to pay for some or all of the group's list.
If all goes well, Hise said, final design drawings will be sent to HUD in the spring with construction on the site of the former William Penn Hotel beginning possibly by year-end.
On two sets of preliminary drawings submitted to the council, Hise said the housing complex--to be known as Penn Manor--needs between $224,000 to $311,000 worth of improvements beyond the basic structure.
But Schwab, Chandler and Strong question whether money for those items should come from the city or a private group such as the Quaker church itself. (Mayor Myron Claxton and Councilman Victor Lopez could not be reached for comment.)
"I approved land--not amenities," Strong said at a recent council meeting.