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When the late developer John Merriam — who designed Philadelphia’s Merriam Theatre — built Cedarbrook Hills apartment complex in Wyncote, Pa., he designed it as luxury living for Philadelphia area suburbanites. Now the property also has the distinction of being the largest suburban apartment transaction in recent years. Cedarbrook Hills changed hands May 4 in an $89 million deal between players familiar with one another. Buyers Ceebraid-Signal Corp. of Stamford, Conn., and Transwestern Investment Co. of Chicago purchased the building from Roseland Property Co. of Roseland, N.J., and Prudential Insurance Co. of Newark, N.J. It is Transwestern’s fourth multifamily joint venture with Ceebraid-Signal. Negotiations lasted more than six months, according to Rachel Kipnes, the attorney in the real estate department of Philadelphia’s Greenberg Traurig who represented the buyers. Christine R. Dutt and Michael L. Lehr of the firm’s real estate and tax departments also worked on the deal. The 40-acre community boasts two 15-story high rises and one 14-story tower. The place encompasses more than 1,000 apartments, doctors’ offices, a grocery store, a barber shop, a hair salon, dry-cleaning facilities and a bank. But the new owners have even more elaborate plans for Cedarbrook Hills, including a fitness center and a clubhouse. The property was purchased by a partnership, Cedarbrook Holdings, of which Transwestern Investment and Ceebraid-Signal own 89 percent. Ceebraid-Signal will manage the property. According to Kipnes, setting things up as a partnership reduced the transfer taxes and allowed for a smoother transition of business operations during the transfer. Ivan Baron, Roseland Property’s in-house counsel, represented both Roseland Property and Prudential Insurance. Roseland had just started marketing the property when Ceebraid-Signal and Transwestern showed interest, he said. “They were interested, and we worked to get the contract finished in a relatively timely fashion,” he said. “They were the only serious bidders for the property.” Kipnes said things worked out well from the buyers’ perspective also. “The sellers were ready to sell, and [Ceebraid-Signal and Transwestern Investment] just thought it was a property that has enormous potential.” Kipnes said there were relatively few sticking points in negotiations between buyer and seller. But she noted that assessing the property and reconfiguring the property’s zoning required some time. “The bulk of the time was spent in due diligence, trying to assess the property.” Kipnes said the six months it took for negotiation was brief for a commercial property of Cedarbrook’s size. According to the Montgomery County Assessor’s Office, the property is assessed at $4.5 million. The buyers thought the price was fair market value in light of Philadelphia’s current real estate market and the quality of the property. The plans to create a fitness center and clubhouse were a major part of the negotiation process, Kipnes said. To make room for the additions, the buyers bought a parcel adjacent to Cedarbrook. The tying of the two parcels and construction plans required rezoning and variances, which were handled by John A. Van Luvanee and Thomas J. Smith of Doylestown’s Eastburn & Gray. “Currently, the adjacent property is on a separate plot, and there is a clubhouse that exists on it,” Smith said. “[Ceebraid-Signal] wishes to expand on that clubhouse and to build another facility.” Smith and Van Luvanee have applied to the Cheltenham Township zoning board for a special exception that would allow the partnership to combine the two parcels, add to an existing clubhouse and build a new structure, but they are still waiting for an answer. Van Luvanee and Smith appeared before the board last week.

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