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STILL PUZZLING NIGHTMARE: Marlton Square still has community and city leaders bewildered about a development project riddled with unfulfilled promises and burdened with debt.
Photos by Jason Lewis
Marlton Square UpdateThe maze of continuous deals, bankruptcies, sale postponements and developers' whims has created a giant eyesore for the residents of the community.By Yussuf J. Simmonds, Sentinel Ass't. Managing EditorDeveloping Marlton Square into a respectable place for the community to enjoy--live, work, play and shop--has eluded elected officials, developers, investors and governmental entities for decades. The property has become an enigma and an eyesore to the community in general and to the residents in the immediate area in particular. At present, the square including a senior citizens apartment complex, known as the Buckingham Senior Apartments (BSA), has been under bankruptcy protection and it appears that the development will only be continued after the bankruptcy proceedings.The Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) of Los Angeles has an interest in whatever happens to the square. Last Thursday, the CRA held a public hearing relative to the BSA which was scheduled to come out of bankruptcy. According to the CRA memorandum, recommendations were to be made regarding the proposed lease of the BSA for development of an affordable senior housing building. Unlike the main square, the BSA is in a stage of development and has remained unfinished because of its bankruptcy status. The CRA commissioners intended to authorize its Chief Executive Officer enter into an agreement with the BSA for completion and operation of the complex, and have it ready for occupancy. Recently the CRA was involved in an effort to revitalize the Crenshaw Corridor in which $14.7 million was awarded to a plan named the Crenshaw Vision Plan which was the brainchild of Councilman Herb Wesson to improve Crenshaw Boulevard in preparation of the Exposition Light Rail Line and the Crenshaw Prairie Line. But where did Marlton Square fit into the scheme of things relative to this vision for building developments around transit stations called "Transit Oriented Developments?Kiara Harris, the director of communications of public affairs at CRA told the Sentinel, "We have everything to do with that," relative to that blighted area called Marlton Square. "It's been a nightmare and the reason is, a lot of time, energy and effort was put forth to find a development team that we thought could do the job," she continued. "The developer was unable to complete the job." The developer she was referring to was Capital Vision Equities (CVE), the primary developer on that project along with a lot of sub contractors. Headed by Christopher Hammonds, CVE has defaulted on $41 million of CRA Loans. Jeff Lee of Lee Homes was partnered with Hammonds in the Marlton Square development. In the middle of the development and to the detriment of the community, "The developers filed bankruptcy," Harris said, "and the property itself has been tied up in bankruptcy court and litigation."According to Harris, the BSA is now out of bankruptcy court and since, it is already halfway built, "we are trying to get direction on finishing it because no one can do anything until the court settles the issues." One of the litigants which Harris referred to is Tim Robbins, who is a tenant of Marlton Square, worked for the developers and is the holder of a trust deed with an original value of approximately $850,000.00 that over its defaulted period is now worth in excess of $1 million dollars. Robbins said, "The CRA has taken care of their part of the relocation fee, but the bigger issue is the trust deed that I have against the property. I filed a lawsuit against all of them. The CRA wanted me to dismiss the lawsuit against them but the part against Jeff Lee, Chris Hammonds and M.S. Acquisitions could continue to go forward. The city settled with me as far as its commitment. Usually when someone is finished with the CRA, they make them file a certificate of abandonment; they did not ask me to file such a certificate because I had legitimate issues with Jeff Lee and Chris Hammonds."Robbins said that he has spoken to attorneys at the city attorney's office (the City Attorney represents the city and the CRA). "In addition, I was doing some maintenance and security work for Jeff Lee and Chris Hammonds, and they haven't paid me for the work that I have done," Robbins explained.Calls were made to Jeff Lee at Lee Homes; Chris Hammonds at CVE; Cecilia V. Estolano and Carolyn Hull of CRA; and Dennis Rodriguez, the economic development deputy to Councilman Bernard Parks in whose district Marlton Square is located, but at press time, there had been no responses.