WATERTOWN — Manhattan developer Meira Moet Shapiro is convinced that she can turn around a vacant, deteriorating apartment building at Cooper and West Lynde streets.
City Manager Rick Finn vehemently disagrees. He contended that the seven-unit building should be torn down, citing its overall deteriorating condition, the lack of parking for seven apartments and its history of numerous police calls over the years.
On Monday night, City Council members are expected to vote on whether Ms. Shapiro can purchase the $14,416.39 tax sale certificate and then renovate the building.
“I can do a lot with it,” she said, saying that she has created a niche of “boutique” rentals around the state that have waiting lists of tenants wanting to move into her properties.
But Mr. Finn said the apartment building has been a nuisance property with problem tenants. The seven-unit apartment building only has five parking spots. To comply with city code, it needs eight parking spaces, he said.
The 4,300-square-foot building also is too big for its 5,880-square-foot lot, so there is nowhere else to add parking spots.
“Not having enough room is certainly a problem and issue for that property and a problem and issue for that neighborhood,” he said.
It would cost the city between $45,000 and $60,000 to demolish it, according to a memo from Mr. Finn to council.
Ms. Shapiro, who owns several rental properties in Oswego and a handful of other buildings in Watertown, fell in love with the building after finding the listing on an online real estate site.
“I never knew Watertown existed until a year ago,” she said.
A 500-acre site in Sandy Creek where she plans to develop a yoga spa resort is among her holdings. In Watertown, she owns The Triumph, a three-story apartment building at 137-139 William St. she has named and a single-family house at 533 Morrison St. She lives part-time in a town of Mexico residence.
Calling herself “an aggressive investor,” she drove up from Oswego on a cold winter day to look at the Cooper Street property and started thinking about what she could do with it, saying that she’d replace ceilings, carpets and broken windows and complete other renovations.
Based on her proven track record, she will ask council members to give her a chance to reach the property’s full potential, Ms. Shapiro said.
The building was last occupied last October, so any zoning issues would be grandfathered in if it’s used again within a year. After October, all zoning issues would have to be addressed, including the parking.
With rents going for about $575 a month, the building would house low-income tenants, for whom she said she feels passionately.
She would use parking passes as a way to solve the parking problem and tow away cars if they parked illegally.
Although she’s flipped a lot of her properties, Ms. Shapiro wants to purchase the tax sale certificate for this property and is considering a few others, she said.
To take over titleship, she must pay all outstanding taxes and any interest and penalties owed on the Cooper Street building. At the March 18 meeting, council members tabled the matter.
City officials initially thought the building had four units, but further inspection revealed that it was two structures that were combined, probably illegally, in the 1950s.
In a memo to City Council, City Code Enforcement Supervisor Shawn R. McWayne also recommends demolition, basically for the same reasons as Mr. Finn outlined.
“The structure requires considerable work in order to be brought into a livable condition,” he wrote in a memo to council last week.
These kinds of properties have been problems for the more than 30 years that he has worked for the city and each new owner hopes to rehabilitate them until they realize the cost to do so, Mr. McShayne said.
Ms. Shapiro said she’s aware that she would need to invest “a substantial amount of money in it.”
“It’s a shame to tear this down,” she said. “Even if it’s not sold to me, why tear it down?” she said.
The property received some unwanted notoriety last June when a Watertown woman was charged with making methamphetamine in it. Ms. Shapiro said she researched the property before becoming interested and was aware of the meth bust.
Jamie Shear was drinking a cup of coffee in his house across the street when the police showed up and investigated the meth bust.
He’s watched people come and go as tenants, trash accumulate in the yard and the building fall apart, and said he knows what should happen to it.
“I’d rather have the city knock it down,” he said.
But Ms. Shapiro said she’s fixed up properties in worse condition.
Ms. Shapiro says she’s made enough money that she doesn’t have to work another day in her life, adding she enjoys creating places for people to live.
“This is my passion,” she said. “I love my work. I love doing it. I’d rather do this than buy more shoes and dresses.”
She lives in an apartment she purchased in Olympic Towers, the historic Manhattan building where Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Onassis lived and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia has a residence.
Before getting into real estate, Ms. Shapiro was an actress, appearing in episodes of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and “The Sopranos” and in movie roles in “Any Given Sunday,” “Searching for Bobby D” and “Funny Valentine.”