Council to Consider Using Free Cash for Safety Improvements

With the development of the former Forbes Lithograph campus in limbo, City Manager Thomas Ambrosino is requesting the City Council approve using almost $300,000 in free cash for safety measures on the parcel.

On Monday night, the council’s finance subcommittee heard the case for using the funds as part of Ambrosino’s requests for the use of about $2 million of the nearly $15 million in free cash recently certified by the state.

In 2019, the Zoning Board approved a 590 residential unit project for the Forbes site, a significantly scaled back version of a plan first introduced by developers in 2015. However, in March of 2021, Ambrosino informed the council that the project was not moving forward and the developers, YIHE Forbes of China, was not moving forward with the project and was marketing the property.

In reaction to that news, the council last spring approved a $200,000 engineering analysis of all structures on the site.

“According to our engineers, a full demolition and abatement of the most dangerous building on the site will be extraordinarily expensive, estimated in excess of $2.6 million,” stated Ambrosino. 

While not recommending the full abatement and demolition, Ambrosino said he was recommending using $293,000 in free cash for some limited safety measures to protect any members of the public who might access the site.

“We are planning on boarding up the windows on the first floor of all three buildings, as well as some areas on the second floors next to features that can be climbed easily,” said Alex Train, the city’s director of housing and community development. 

There will also be some abatement of lead and asbestos on the site to meet OSHA standards, Train said, as well as the removal of vegetation to make sure there is a clean line of site for surveillance cameras near the property. In addition, repairs to holes in the fencing and the construction of some new fencing around the perimeter is planned.

District 3 Councilor Norieliz DeJesus asked if there were city surveillance cameras on the property.

Train said the city does not have cameras on the site, and that the nearest city camera was on Crescent Avenue.

“The site does have surveillance cameras that are overseen by a private security contractor and they have been intermittently deployed by the developer,” said Train. “But when we were last there, it was not clear if the security personnel were monitoring the site.”

District 4 Councilor Enio Lopez asked if the city would recoup the $293,000 from the developer.

Ambrosino said steps have been taken that will eventually allow the city to recoup the cost. If the developer does not pay, he said the city can go to land court in order to have the costs added to a future tax bill for the property.

While the city could conceivably take the developer to court and foreclose on the property if the developer doesn’t pay the tax bill, Ambrosino said the odds of that happening are highly unlikely.

“At some point, the developer will just pay us back, because the land is worth $40 million and they are not going to lose it over $290,000,” Ambrosino said.

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