News » Government

City officials attempt to deal with abandoned apartment building

by

comment
Lantana Apartments at 7408 NW 10th Street in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Lantana Apartments at 7408 NW 10th Street in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015.

It’s easy to see that Lantana Apartments doesn’t fit in its western Oklahoma City neighborhood.

The towering 12-building apartment complex stands in stark contest to the sprawling Oak Wood townhomes, where lawn furniture and grills accompany front door entrances with adorning welcome wreaths.

Across the street from Oak Wood, construction crews work on a safe-room addition to an expanding Western Heights elementary school building. Alongside the school is Oklahoma City’s Lytle Park, which features colorful playground equipment and covered picnic tables, an inviting spot for neighbors to come with their families. Beyond the park are streets and cul-de-sacs complete with single-family homes.

It is no wonder Oklahoma City staff has labeled the derelict Lantana Apartments as public enemy No. 1.

The buildings were boarded and the wrought iron perimeter fence was locked when the last tenant moved out in 2008. However, the term “abandoned” doesn’t adequately describe the apartment complex built on nine acres of land in 1970. The sight drivers spot along NW 10th Street, Embark passengers notice when waiting at the bus stop and neighbors meet daily is described as haunting.

Aluminum cans, cigarette butts and fast food and candy wrappers litter the grass area of the complex’s fence. Rusted signs warn of trespassing, but those with an interest in the unrepressed apartments can find easy entrance.

The two-story buildings are beat-up, rickety and show signs of graffiti. Seven of the buildings have caught fire. This summer, the Oklahoma City Fire Department battled through two fires costing $14,447.92.

The city will recover that amount or bill the apartment complex’s California-based owner. Thanks to the abandoned building ordinance passed by the Oklahoma City Council in 2014, the city invoices property owners when police officers or firefighters are called to an abandoned property.

City staff and council members want to do more than recover funds spent on fire calls and abatement actions, such as tall grass, graffiti and property maintenance. They want to put a stop to the troubling issues arising at Lantana Apartments.

Firefighters and city code enforcement officers aren’t the only ones called to the Lantana. The complex was the scene of a murder investigation by Oklahoma City Police in 2008, when a pizza deliveryman was robbed and shot.

Last week, the city paved the way for improvements at Lantana Apartments. It has received four bids for demolition, which could cost $1.5 to $2 million, according to staff reports. The fire-damaged buildings alone could set the city back $250,000 to $500,000.

The city’s development services department intends to share bid results along with a recommendation for action at a city council meeting in October. In August, the department previously endorsed an option of demolishing the fire-damaged buildings as funds become available and placing liens on the property for the demolition costs. The movement by the city could force the owners to take action or surrender the property to a county foreclosure sale.

City council member James Greiner supports that option. Representing Ward 1, where Lantana Apartments is located, he consistently hears calls for the buildings being torn down. While Greiner typically doesn’t support a situation calling for the city to take over property and begin leveling buildings, in this instance, he agrees.

“In this case, because it is such a nuisance to the neighborhood and it does pose a public safety threat … It is certainly a property that government has a role in stepping into and forcing some change,” he said.

Rehab

Southern California’s Regatta Investment Group, which represents the apartment property owners, AMG Riverton, LLC, professes it wants to bring change to the Lantana Apartments. The group maintains it is working with developer Hartford Rentals, based in Colorado.

Russell Mohlberg of Regatta Investment Group said discussions with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) resulted in an “approval of a concept agreement we presented to HUD a few weeks ago.”

“It is a complete rehab to rebuild all the units,” Mohlberg told Oklahoma Gazette of the concept.

An official at the Fort Worth, Texas, HUD office was unaware of an agreement.

“We have no knowledge of any agreement, contract or anything they were talking about,” said Patricia Campbell, spokesperson for HUD Region VI, which oversees HUD programs and services in Oklahoma.

Regatta Investment Group did not respond to the Gazette’s request for confirmation of the agreement document. Calls to Hartford Rentals supervisor for comment were not returned.

Further deterioration

Seven years have passed since the last tenant resided in Lantana Apartments. Over that period, the abandoned complex has racked up more than 100 complaints at the city’s Action Center. As of Sept. 24, the Oklahoma County Treasurer’s office lists $80,897.93 in delinquent taxes owed on the property. The amount total represents weed, nuisance and cleaning liens placed as far back as 2012, in addition to property taxes due to the county. About $21,000 of the total owed is in interest.

In its final year with tenants, the market value was listed at $2.89 million. That value plummeted to $648,824 in 2014, according to records from the Oklahoma County Assessor’s office.

With the council’s nod, city staff sought the demolition bids. Greiner believes the aggressive approach will lead to residents seeing progress on the complex — perhaps even the removal of one building at a time. He is optimistic the land can once again fit in its western Oklahoma City neighborhood with a plan for redevelopment bringing housing or mixed-used space.

“Over the last couple of months, we’ve seen a speed in what the city is doing,” said Greiner. “I think this is a good thing. I think this situation will be good in the end.”

Print Headline: Neighborhood eyesore, City leaders push to demolish a well-known abandoned apartment complex while an investment group contends it’s working to refurbish it.

Add a comment