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Miami Herald - February 27, 2009

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Developer seeks money from North Miami before construction
Construction has yet to begin, but the developer of North Miami's first affordable housing project is saying it wants to get paid.


North Miami's first affordable housing project has yet to be built, but the developer soon might get a payment from the city before construction begins.

Developer Urban Residential Development Group, which is scheduled to build the 136-unit Pioneer Gardens, is asking the city's Community Redevelopment Agency to pay a portion of money it says it already has spent on the project that has been beset by delays.

The company said the CRA should pay between $240,000 and $340,000.

The CRA board agreed 4-1 Tuesday to allow its attorney and director to work out an agreement with the company. Urban Residential is a subsidiary of Boca Developers, the group building Biscayne Landing near Florida International University's Biscayne Bay Campus. In 2003, the city and Boca Developers, signed the Munisport Agreement, which allows the company to build the sprawling mixed-use Biscayne Landing project. As part of the agreement the company was also required to build one affordable housing unit per unit built at Biscayne Landing.

Urban Residential is in charge of building Pioneer Gardens at Northeast 137th Street and Fifth Avenue. But environmental problems -- such as the discovery of asbestos in the ground -- have set the project back. CRA Director Tony Crapp Sr. said the city is waiting for an all-clear from Miami-Dade County's department of environmental resource management.

William Wallace IV, the company's vice president, told the council that Urban Residential has worked for nearly five years without being paid. So far, the company has submitted receipts for about $1.6 million of work, including legal fees it said it incurred during the planning process.

As part of the October 2006 deal with Urban Development, the CRA agreed to pay 15 percent of the company's total cost.

The agreement states the developers do not get payment from the CRA until financing is secured, Crapp said. Financing can't be done until the land is declared environmentally safe. Wallace said his company didn't anticipate the setbacks and needs the money, especially in a flagging economy.

''All we are asking for is that we get paid for work we've already done,'' Wallace said.

Mayor Kevin Burns said he believes it's in the city's best interest to give the company some money.

''I don't believe we are giving them an advance,'' he said. ``I believe we are giving them money they have already earned. ''

Council member Michael Blynn, the only board member to vote against renegotiating the terms of payment, said the CRA should stick to the contract.

''Why should we breach the contract?'' he asked. ``I feel bad for them, but it was their risk.''