Chapel Hill seeks money to buy flood-damaged condominium complex

tgrubb@newsobserver.comSeptember 17, 2013 

Helio Cortez, a supervisor with ServPro, clears drywall dust from an apartment Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, at the Airport Gardens public housing complex on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The ServPro crews were removing the drywall before another company came in to test, clean and treat the apartments for mold. A June 30 flood caused damage to 18 of the complex’s 26 apartments. The cleanup work is expected to wrap up around Sept. 30.

TAMMY GRUBB — tgrubb@newsobserver.com

— A federal grant could give the town another shot at buying the Camelot Village Condominiums that flooded this summer, leaving many residents homeless.

The town also is pooling its insurance money and savings to pay roughly $1.1 million for flood damage at Town Hall and a public housing complex on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration’s grant program has $18 million available for state agencies, including the N.C. Department of Public Safety. North Carolina officials expect to get roughly $4 million to $5 million that they can distribute to selected applicants. The program helps applicants buy up to 10 properties and makes up to $267,000 available for each purchase.

Camelot Village on South Estes Drive across from University Mall has flooded several times in the last 20 years because of water backing up in Bolin Creek. Town spokeswoman Catherine Lazorko said officials don’t know what they would do with the land, but it would not be used for housing.

The FEMA grant program is similar to one the town tried several years ago. The town won a roughly $2 million that time but had to return it when it could not find enough Camelot owners to buy the affected buildings.

Lazorko said the town faces some hurdles this time, too. The money would be used to buy condominiums, although most applicants use it to buy single-family homes. Plus, the second-floor units at Camelot Village were not flooded, reducing the ratio of tax value to financial losses, which the state uses to distribute the money.

“Since we are trying to acquire condos, we need 100 percent of the owners within the building to agree to being bought out,” Lazorko said. “Many are real estate investor firms, out of town, or absentee owners, and this is the problem we had last time (when) we actually won the grant. We could not get everyone’s interest or agreement, and (the town) withdrew from accepting the grant.”

Town Council member Ed Harrison said there may be other means now of finding individual unit owners and letting them know something needs to be done.

Ongoing repairs

The June 30 flooding was some of the worst in 28 years, said Deputy Fire Chief Robert Bosworth, the town’s emergency management coordinator. It had rained for a few days, the ground was saturated, and the downpour came in just a few hours with nowhere to go, he said.

“The one thing that we all are shocked by is how long it takes to recover from events like this,” he said. “The flooding that we’ve experienced – both on town property and also in Camelot Village and other areas – it doesn’t resolve itself in just a couple of months.”

The Camelot Village repairs are ongoing, as is the work to repair damaged town facilities. The first floor of Town Hall could be under construction for the next year, while the work to restore 18 of 26 apartments in the town-owned Airport Gardens complex on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard could wrap up by Sept. 30, said Ken Pennoyer, business management office director.

The town already received a partial insurance payment of $208,967 for the Airport Gardens work. The remaining $236,495, including the money to remove and treat mold found in some units, will come from housing department savings, he said.

Town Hall is a more intensive project, because staff is using the opportunity to plan a better use for the first-floor space, Pennoyer said. The town’s insurer declared an initial loss of $267,092 for Town Hall, leaving the town to pay $412,484 out of its savings, he said.

For now, 18 displaced employees are working around town, and the The Business Management Office is relocating to West Franklin Street, where a revenue office and cashier window will open at University Square. Public Works staff will report back to the town manager later this month with short- and long-term recommendations for how to reduce future flooding damage.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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