City officials reject first draft of renovation plan for Whispering Woods Apartments

Published 9:40 am Thursday, January 12, 2017

The owners of Whispering Woods Apartments have 60 days to submit an amended rehabilitation plan for the condemned apartment complex on U.S. 61 North before the city takes further action involving the property, according to an order issued by the city’s community development department.

Whispering Woods, 780 U.S. 61 North, was placed under the city’s slum clearance ordinance in December.

The order was issued after a Jan. 4 meeting between representatives for Whispering Woods owner Eddie Grosse and community development director Victor Grey-Lewis and city officials in which the plan was presented.

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The hearing is required under the slum clearance ordinance to allow property owners an opportunity to present a plan to either renovate or raze the buildings.

“It lacked information; we asked them to go back and re-do it,” Grey-Lewis said of the plan.

The order did not outline what steps the city will take if the amended plan is not received, but the ordinance allows the city to take over a property, renovate or demolish it, and sell the property to recover any costs if property owners do not comply.

Grosse has 30 days to appeal the order.

Attempts to reach Christopher Green, Grosse’s attorney, for a comment were unsuccessful.

The 19-page proposed rehabilitation plan presented Jan. 4 outlines a project to clean the property, power wash the buildings, replace shingles and broken windows and remove trash from the property.

“The extent of the work will cover all buildings,” the proposal’s summary said.

The renovations, according to the plan, will involve work on building interiors and exteriors, air conditioning and repairing water and sewage lines and leaks.

“We will contract out any electrical or mechanical issues to licensed contractors,” the summary continued, adding the complex’s mailboxes will be relocated to the front of the apartment complex, both pool houses will be cleaned and the fences around the pool houses and the trash can there will be repaired.

According to the order, the city rejected the plan because it did not include a construction schedule with projected start and completion dates.

The construction schedule, according to the order, provides landmark dates when certain phases of work will be completed. It should also include a cost estimate of the entire ‘rehabilitation plan’ including upgrading fire protection.

One building in the complex was destroyed by fire and another heavily damaged by a fire because the complex had inadequate water pressure for firefighters to fight the fires. The apartment complex has 4-inch lines, which Fire Chief Charles Atkins has said are unsuitable for firefighting. The lines, he said, should be 6 inches.

Both fire-damaged buildings will be removed, according to the rehabilitation plan.

The plan should also include proof the project can be 100 percent financed and the funds are available for the project.

“Such assurances may include proof of funds in a financial institution, proof of loan commitment, performance bond, or other documentation to assure the city that funds are available and committed,” the report continued.

When Whispering Woods Holdings LLC, a Delaware-based holding company with offices in Florida, acquired the property then known as Confederate Ridge in February 2013, company officials made plans to improve the complex and change its image from an area where crime and drug sales were common occurrences.

Police calls dropped, and Grosse said in a March 2014 interview the company evicted 70 tenants soon after taking over the property. Two buildings condemned by the city for electric code violations were repaired and the condemnation order on them removed.

Grosse added the company was going to repair the complex’s two swimming pools, club and fitness center and laundry center, and the buildings would be renovated.

Almost two years later, in January, the city condemned 37 units at the complex after building inspections revealed a series of serious city and state building code violations and unsafe conditions for residents, and residents complained about poor maintenance and mold in the apartments.

Another set of units were later condemned after a sewer line collapsed on the back side of the property.

In February, an eight-unit apartment building was destroyed by fire.

The building was neither rebuilt nor demolished after the fire. The burnt remains are still standing. The charred structure was not the only damaged building. A Nov. 4 fire heavily damaged a second in the complex.

A trip through Whispering Woods revealed vacant apartments, many with broken windows and missing roof shingles.

Vacant apartments in the rear of the property were littered with rubbish and trash, and the walls had been torn down revealing the frame.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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