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Families wait to move into homes while developer blames National Grid

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A housing developer from Jacksonville, Fla., is paying hotel bills for five military families who are waiting to move into houses they were told would be ready in November in the 43-acre Deerfield Subdivision off Route 37 in the town of Pamelia.

But the developer, Beacon Asset Managers, is in a sticky situation that could keep the families waiting much longer. The developer blames National Grid, which had agreed to complete electrical work by early November at the latest, for the ongoing delay at the site.

Three single-family houses have sat empty since October, while an additional five are under construction. National Grid said the delay is because it needed the manpower to serve areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Families waiting to move in have been told by the developer that the remaining work should done by Dec. 19, but workers installing electric lines at the site Tuesday called that deadline unrealistic. They said it will take at least another month to finish electric and gas lines at the site, where water and sewer lines were installed in October. The developer plans to build 29 single-family houses and 39 duplexes at the site.

To make matters worse for the developer, it also is at odds with the Pamelia Town Council. The board decided Monday not to accept bond agreements that would have provided insurance for the town to maintain the road, along with water and sewer infrastructure. Now, the road at the site won’t be dedicated to the town for ownership until the whole project is done; that will mean the developer will be responsible for snowplowing and maintaining the privately owned road.

The rift with the town could make it challenging for the developer to sell the houses on behalf of the families by establishing long-term mortgage agreements with financial institutions; Pamelia officials say mortgages for such housing projects usually require roads to be owned and maintained by municipalities, not by developers.

Town Supervisor Lawrence C. Longway said the board refused to take ownership of the road because it needs to be topped with asphalt, which can’t be done until spring due to the cold weather. The developer will be able to acquire certificates of occupancy for families to move in once electricity is available at the houses, however, even though the road is privately owned.

“We’re being more lenient in this case, because we’re allowing them to sell the houses on a private road,” Mr. Longway said. “We’ve never allowed someone to sell homes (by accepting bonds) until the project is totally done. Once the town accepts these roads, I can’t allow (workers) to park equipment on them anymore because they have to be open to the public. How am I going to run a snowplow when there are manholes in the middle of the street? Our plows will rip through those.”

Even so, the town’s decision to reject bond agreements for the project — an important component needed to sell the houses — contradicts what officials agreed to in the fall before the project started, said project engineer Matthew R. Morgia of Aubertine & Currier Architects. In October, Pamelia Highway Superintendent Dennis G. Hoistion told Mr. Morgia that the town would be willing to take ownership of the road without the top layer of asphalt.

“If the developer knew they would have had to have asphalt in October, they would have done that,” Mr. Morgia said. “But you can’t pave it in December, and you need to move people in the homes. It’s not a big deal for the developer to plow the road for another month, but it’s getting the process along and having confidence in the town” that’s the problem.

Mr. Morgia said the developer could find it challenging to sell the houses if the Town Council doesn’t sign an agreement stating it will take ownership of the road. “There should at least be something in writing, and that was the intent of the development agreement” that was rejected Monday.

Code Enforcement Officer Walter H. VanTassel, who is charged with inspecting the site, questioned why workers aren’t focused on connecting electrical lines to the three finished houses as soon as possible.

Mr. VanTassel said Tuesday that workers from Syracuse Utilities — a subcontractor for National Grid — are installing electrical lines in an area at the western end of the site, about a half-mile from the three houses situated to the east. He questioned why workers aren’t focused getting power to the finished houses first in an attempt to expedite the process.

“I don’t see it happening,” Mr. VanTassel said of the developer’s goal to finish the work by Dec. 19. “It’s going to take at least of month to get energy to the system based on what they can get done in a week. And you can’t get any work done in the snow, so that could add four to eight weeks.”

Robert L. Sipple Jr., managing partner of Beacon Asset Managers, blamed National Grid for the project delay. The developer signed a $415,000 agreement with National Grid in September in which the energy provider committed to starting work Oct. 6 and finishing by Nov. 15. Work wasn’t started until the second week of November.

“Four weeks went by and work wasn’t started,” he said. “They were going to get started toward the end of October and we then had Hurricane Sandy. They told us, ‘We’re not going to get to this by another month or two.’ It’s been very frustrating, and I’ve never had to deal with a situation like that with any utility company in America.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Sipple said, the developer is scrambling to solve the issues with National Grid and Pamelia officials as soon as possible in order to get military families into their houses. Four families have lived in a hotel for about a week, and one has been there more than two weeks.

“I can sympathize with the families, and we’ve tried to make them comfortable by paying for lodging and given them gift cards to Walmart for Christmas shopping,” Mr. Sipple said. “I don’t quite understand electricity, but I would think that there should be a way for (National Grid) to leapfrog some of the streets out there that we have no housing on and focus on the homes that are ready to move into.”

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