Apparently unable to get a bank loan, the owner of an aging apartment building at 291 Evandale Ave. has given up on a plan to demolish the structure and build 144 condos. Instead, he wants to rent the apartments out again, and quick.
It's a bit of a problem for city staff, who say the buildings are probably unsafe, and for neighbors, who say the apartments are an eyesore. To top it off, the city spent $125,000 to relocate 250 people from the 64-unit apartment complex last year.
The apartments were some of the cheapest in the city, with monthly rents ranging from $900 to $1,200 for two- and three-bedroom units. But there were reasons why the rents were cheap and neighbors wanted it redeveloped: The courtyards were littered with trash, the carport roofs were sagging, code violations were apparent and the buildings would likely be unsafe in an earthquake, said city attorney Michael Martello.
"Part of the reason we approved the project was because the existing one was so dilapidated," Martello said.
Now the owner is making an "end run" to quickly rent out the building, Martello said, adding that he has tried to work on the buildings without the necessary permits, even after the city explained what permits were required. The city issued a stop work order so the buildings could be inspected.
"We're not going to let people go back in there just so they can get a revenue stream," Martello said. "The minimum concern is safety."
The owner's representative, architect Salvatore Caruso, did not return phone calls from the Voice.
"I hope that more than minor cosmetic renovation is going to be done," said Lisa Matichak, president of the Wagon Wheel Neighborhood Association, whose members live in nearby homes.
"Major renovation is needed to upgrade the complex to one that is attractive," she wrote in an e-mail. "And, if it has not already been done, seismic safety should be addressed. It will be nearly impossible to address this once the units have been rented."
"Two of the candidates running for City Council spoke frequently about providing incentives to the apartment owners to completely renovate the complexes," Matichak said. "Perhaps this complex could be the first!"
The city spent $125,000 to relocate 33 of the 64 households last year, said Linda Lauzze, neighborhood services manager. That was "the very least we could do," said council member Laura Macias at the time. "I hope we don't have to look at another development like this where 250 people are kicked onto the street."
The experience led the City Council to approve a policy requiring developers to pay relocation expenses when low-income housing is torn down.
Most members of the council never liked the condo project to begin with. In 2007, a council majority objected to the project's unusual density. But the previous council had allowed the "R4" zoning change, and the council did not want to change the direction of a "horse in mid-stream," as council member Jac Siegel put it.
But now the city has a different problem to contend with: the existing apartment buildings. The city has even considered having the whole complex torn down, Martello said, because at least then the neighborhood would have an open lot instead of a vacant, run-down apartment complex with a cyclone fence around it.
A final verdict on 291 Evandale will come after the building inspectors have completed their examination of the buildings, Martello said.