Getting your Evanston news from Facebook? Try the Evanston RoundTable’s free daily and weekend email newsletters – sign up now!
Subscribe to the newsletter!
Despite developer Thomas Roszak’s financial and legal problems and the flaws in the Sienna Court development project, both the City of Evanston and the Center for Independent Futures (CIF) plan to continue their relationships with him for at least the time being. CIF provides supportive housing and other services for persons with a disability.
Two of most signification flaws in the project are the hole in the ground where two additional buildings were originally planned and the steep access ramp from Oak Avenue into the project. The Illinois Attorney General has sued Mr. Roszak for failing to make the project accessible (see accompanying story). And CIF clients may also be pursuing legal remedies.
CIF’s involvement with Mr. Roszak began about three years ago, when he reportedly approached the organization with a proposal to make several units in Sienna not only accessible but affordable for CIF-approved clients. At that time the City’s affordable-housing ordinance mandated that developers of projects with more than 25 units dedicate 10 percent of the units as affordable. (Since then the ordinance has been amended to allow developers either to make a contribution to the City’s affordable-housing fund or to develop the units on-site.)
CIF worked to obtain financing for five persons with a disability to purchase units. Subsequently CIF clients purchased another 10 units in the Sienna development, said Dr. Jane Doyle, executive director of CIF.
But problems arose. In spring of 2007 a portion of the parking structure collapsed, causing a temporary evacuation of residents and leaving an unsightly heap of dirt buttressing a garage wall. The following year, after two of the four condominium buildings had been built – containing a total of more than 100 units – Mr. Roszak said he would be unable to complete the project as planned and petitioned the City to be allowed to build a hotel instead. Some owners protested at that time, saying they had purchased their units in anticipation of only residential, not transient, housing in the development.
CIF clients attended several City meetings in the spring of 2008 to voice their concern about the possibility of the hotel and to describe the difficulties they faced in getting to and from their apartments.
As examples, they said the sidewalk adjacent to the driveway is very steep, making walking difficult and access by wheelchair nearly impossible. In addition, getting to the north building involves taking an elevator in the south building parking garage then navigating the garage (some persons in wheelchairs) amidst moving traffic to get to the elevator in their building. They said these were accessibility issues the developer should have addressed.
“It’s a long, steep entrance,” said Dr. Doyle, “and then, since the access to the one building is through the garage of the other building, the clients have to negotiate their way through 200 feet of the garage.” Not only are there parked cars, she said but sometimes there is moving traffic. One of the CIF clients who has to travel the parking lot is blind, she said; another is in a wheelchair – “to navigate [the parking lot] is extremely difficult.”
One year later, the hotel is on hold; accessibility issues have not been addressed; the Illinois Attorney General’s office has sued Mr. Roszak for his failure to make the Sienna project ADA accessible; and Mr. Roszak has filed for personal bankruptcy.
The Attorney General’s complaint against Mr. Roszak and his related businesses, and the hopes of creating a CIF community within the Sienna community are somewhat frazzled. Dr. Doyle said the accessibility problems – the ramp and the remote elevator – interfere with living and enjoyment. Otherwise, the clients like the place and its closeness to downtown Evanston. In addition, a CIF “community builder” lives in each building, offering support and facilitating communications within the group.
The City and CIF both appear somewhat stymied about the next direction. Some of the clients may take legal action against Mr. Roszak, though Dr. Doyle has said CIF itself is not planning to do so. In addition, she said, CIF will continue to monitor the situation and to continue to encourage the CIF community at Sienna.
Similarly, Jill Chambers of the City’s community development department told the RoundTable, “We’re still continuing to work with Mr. Roszak.” Like CIF and the Attorney General’s office, the City is focusing on the ramp. Two sets of accessibility standards – state and federal – apply to the ramp, and the City has adopted only the state standards.
“The ramp is rather steep,” Ms. Chambers said, adding that in an all-out emergency, fire department vehicles would be able to rescue any disabled persons and others would be able to get to safety by themselves. Nonetheless, she said, the ramp does not comply with the City code, which incorporates International Building Code (IBC) Illinois standards.
Ms. Chambers said the City had advised Mr. Roszak “to get an interpretation [of the standards for the ramp] from the state. We suggested that the condo owners go to the state [as well].”
Ms. Chambers said the City will continue to work with Mr. Roszak. “The hole is a significant concern, but we hope to keep an open relationship,” she said.