In another chapter of the ongoing drama over 291 Evandale Ave., the City Council on Tuesday rejected the owner's attempt to re-roof the run-down apartment complex there, which has stood vacant with blue tarps covering leaky roofs ever since a redevelopment plan failed almost two years ago.
Paul Hogan, attorney for Summerhill Apartments owner Sal Teresi, argued that the city's ordinances allow a re-roofing permit for the building because it is not receiving major changes to the exterior, and because the site is not undergoing a change in land use.
But due to a long list of code violations, safety issues and neighborhood concerns about the complex, city staffers say, Teresi needs to go through an unusual discretionary requirement -- a several-week-long "design review process" -- before any permits are issued.
The council voted unanimously against Teresi's appeal for the re-roofing permit, including member John Inks, a self-described "property rights purist," who said the council's action could be seen as "effectively a condemnation" of the building.
"Not allowing us to make repairs is not helpful to anyone," Hogan said at the meeting. The city's ordinances do not apply, he said, because "This is not a new building, this is not a change in land use and this is not a change to the exterior. Your ordinance doesn't say you have to go through design review if the neighborhood has concerns."
City attorney Michael Martello disagreed.
"Under their theory they could rebuild the entire complex" without any oversight, Martello said. Before the city preemptively shut the complex's water off and stopped work orders, city staff observed workers at the complex last year doing unapproved work on the buildings so people could move back in, with workers camping out at the complex in the process, said zoning administrator Peter Gilli in a staff report.
"Staff was concerned people would start occupying an uninhabitable building," Gilli wrote.
Gilli reports that there are "life safety issues" there, such as illegal exterior water heater sheds mounted in spaces formerly used as exits and walkways.
The property has been up for sale since last year, and several buyers reportedly have expressed interest -- only to pull out after seeing how much work the complex needs.
Last year the city reported that "numerous structures have rodent infestation, insect hives along with dry rot and signs of termite destruction. ... Numerous units lack working bathroom fixtures, kitchen appliances, lighting fixtures and heating devices." Other problems reported by city staff include the "presence of rank odor," likely from a broken sewer line, broken concrete stairs and metal guardrails, missing smoke detectors, mold, unvented water heaters and numerous electrical violations.
"The majority of the neighborhood does not support rehabilitation of this property," said Lisa Matichak, president of the Wagon Wheel Neighborhood Association. "There are pages and pages of code violations." Residents in the neighborhood also claim that crime has gone down since the complex went vacant.
In 2006 the City Council approved a plan for 144 condos to replace the 64 apartments at the site, but that plan failed when the owner apparently could not get the loans required. Because the apartments were filled with some of the poorest families in the city, the city ended up spending $127,000 of its own funds to relocate 33 of the households.
Meanwhile, the city says Teresi still owes $87,950 in unpaid planning fees for the previous condo development plan, which spurred the council later that evening to change how city planning fees are collected.
Several other plans and permits would be required to make the building inhabitable, including a landscaping plan to address the complex's dead landscaping. Martello said it was best for the city to make sure all of that work would be done before money is spent on a new roof.
"To put a roof on with all the illegal changes made is just unacceptable," said council member Ronit Bryant.
In June the City Council rejected a plan from KDF Communities to renovate the apartment complex for affordable housing, saying they did not have enough information about what KDF would do to the buildings before the developer applied for $12 million in state bonds for the project.