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Families stuck in hotels awaiting Creek Wood certification

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Two weeks ago, Brittni L. Price pulled up to Creek Wood Apartments off Mill Street in a U-Haul truck with all of her belongings only to be told she could not move into her new apartment that day.

Even though she had signed a lease just the day before, Ms. Price learned there was a code enforcement problem with the new building and the landlord, Buffalo-based Norstar Development USA, could not get a certificate of occupancy from the city.

But Ms. Price had already given her key back to her old landlord. She had no place to live.

She wasn't alone. Five other families were in the same situation that day.

“It was absolutely ridiculous,” she said Thursday from her hotel room at the Best Western Carriage House Inn on Washington Street, where she has been staying with her 14-month-old toddler, Zolin, since Oct. 1.

She was told she could move in this past Monday, but that day came and went. Now it looks like her apartment won't be ready until Oct. 29 — at the earliest.

Linda L. Goodman, Norstar's executive director, acknowledged Thursday that the developer's construction company “jumped the gun” when it surmised the six units in the lastest phase of construction would be ready for tenants and then were not. The problem was caused by miscommunication between the construction crew and the property manager, Landsman Development Corp., Rochester, she said.

Also blaming “101 construction problems on a complicated project,” Ms. Goodman would not specify the problems and would not say when the tenants will finally be able to move into their new homes.

Shawn R. McWayne, the city's code enforcement officer, said the building cannot be occupied until the construction company fixes a problem with fire suppression walls and ceilings. He had no idea the tenants are staying at the hotel.

“It's unfortunate,” Ms. Goodman said. “It was a bad thing that happened. It won't ever happen again.”

The tenants, however, will be reimbursed for the cost of food and their hotel rooms will be paid for by Norstar, Ms. Goodman said. So far, Ms. Price said, her hotel room bill has climbed to $943.

Noting the food issue has not been resolved, she said she has been forced to eat out every day because she has no access to a stove. And she has had to buy new baby bottles and clothing for her daughter because their belongings are stored in a garage at the apartment complex.

She has been frustrated, contending she has gotten the run-around from the construction company, the property manager and Norstar about what happened. And living in a hotel room with a 14-month-old is difficult, she said.

“It's a terrible situation,” she said.

Another tenant who has been living at the Best Western said she wanted the Watertown City Council and Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham to know what they are going through since the city is considering a tax abatement package for Norstar for Creek Wood Apartments.

The woman, who did not want to be identified, said council members should question the situation.

On Tuesday night, Ms. Goodman attended a council meeting, seeking a 10-year tax break for the second phase of the apartment complex, which includes 96 additional units to go along with the first 104.

On Wednesday, council members Teresa R. Macaluso and Joseph M. Butler Jr. said they were unaware of the problem with the apartments. Mr. Graham, who supports the tax break, said the construction problem and the tax package “are two separate issues.”

“It's a landlord-tenant issue,” he said, “And the tenants are getting reimbursed.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Price and the other tenants just wait.

“This has got to be costing them a lot of money,” she said.

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