A proposal by Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone calling for the village to charge developers a fee when converting apartments to condominiums in lieu of providing parking was met with a lukewarm response by the village council earlier this month.
The issue was brought to the forefront by a recent amendment to the State’s Condominium Property Act which allows municipalities to require newly converted condominiums to comply with current zoning, building and life safety codes, even if the original apartment building was constructed before these standards took effect.
Under the current zoning code, this would mean that the conversions, like newly constructed condos, would be required to provide two parking spaces per unit”a standard that would be highly difficult to meet, as many of the apartment buildings developers hope to convert occupy nearly the entire footprint of the lot upon which they are built.
“We unarguably have a parking problem which is not going to disappear by itself,” Calderone said. “This is just another way of slowly and, admittedly, by piecemeal, working on the problem.”
Though the village has recently invested in a study which it hopes will lead to a parking solution for Madison Street, Calderone said that the proposed fee would have gone toward parking solutions in the immediate areas of the conversions.
“We could have funds set aside so, when the opportunity presents itself, we could acquire property and build a parking lot,” he explained.
Other commissioners felt that the fee, which Calderone estimated at between $2,000 and $5,000, would discourage developers from investing in conversions.
“We all know that we need more parking, but penalizing people going from apartments to condos is the wrong thing to do,” said Commissioner Mark Hosty, adding that condo conversions do not increase the occupancy level of the former apartment buildings and do not place an added burden on the village.
Marking a rare consensus from both sides of the often divided council, Commissioner Patrick Doolin agreed. He said that Forest Park has been fortunate to enjoy high rates of home ownership, and should not do anything to get in the way of these numbers increasing even further.
“This is going to discourage home ownership. This is going to be a pass-through tax on the very people we’re looking to attract,” he said, also noting that the high density apartment buildings that are often converted have been the source of many of the village’s recent crime problems.
Doolin, a Realtor who has been involved in several condo conversions in town, said that homeowners are well-known to become more involved in their communities, since they have more of a vested long-term interest in the area’s well being, and noted that condo conversions are among the last remaining affordable residential properties for sale in town.
He acknowledged that the village does lose some property tax revenue when apartments are converted to condos ” apartment buildings, he said, are taxed at about 26 percent of their equalized assessed value while single family residences are taxed at 16 percent ” but said that he did not think the loss was substantial enough to justify a fee.
“As the units are converted to condominiums and sold off individually, the overall combined value of the real estate increases, thereby minimizing the decrease in tax revenue,” he wrote in an email. He referenced a recent conversion of 10 apartments at 7740 Harvard Street, which he said brought in $27,985 in real estate taxes each year as apartments and now brings in $23,580 as condos.
Calderone said that he did not think a small, one-time fee would be enough to discourage developers from investing in Forest Park.
“I don’t see how it would. … The real estate market continues to be strong,” Calderone said. “I don’t see how a couple thousand dollars is going to arrest sales…This is an opportunity that did not exist before. If we had this practice just on condo conversions alone for the last five to eight years, we could have had $1 million at least.”
The village currently has four buildings pending condo conversion with a total of 66 units, including a 40-unit property at 7428 Washington St. In the last five years, there have been 14 apartment buildings converted to condos with a total of 261 units, the largest being a 67-unit building at 310 Lathrop Ave. in 2004.
Despite the opposition to the fee in lieu of parking, Calderone assured that the village will take advantage of other aspects of the legislation by ensuring that condo conversions comply with current building and life safety codes, which he said had been a priority even before the recent legislation.
“There’s certainly no rational reason for us to forgive any life safety requirements,” he said.
Zoning issues would be another story, he admitted, as it would be impossible for developers to comply with current setback requirements without demolishing and reconstructing the old apartment buildings rather than converting them.