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Litigation to decide fate of abandoned properties in DeKalb

City: Derelict apartments must either be fixed, get torn down

DeKALB – Demolition or remediation might be the only options for an apartment building on Edgebrook Drive, one of the numerous abandoned properties in DeKalb.

The city filed a petition calling for one of these two outcomes earlier this month, an action similar to the petition the city filed in October to have the former Otto’s nightclub building downtown remediated or demolished. That property now will be torn down to construct a $7.5 million apartment and commercial-use complex.

Along with numerous health hazards, the petition claims that leading into the 2014-15 school year, about when the building was declared uninhabitable, many apartments did not have functional plumbing. That led to human feces in the hallways and stairwells. Extensive evidence was found of marijuana use in common areas of the building. At least one drug dealer was actively operating on the premises.

It also claims that the owner, Pat Bragg, has failed to maintain the property in a secure condition while it is uninhabited. A phone number for Bragg could not be located Monday.

DeKalb City Attorney Dean Frieders said this information was shared with Bragg, but the responsibility to maintain the building has not been taken.

“In a perfect world, the owner takes responsibility to restore the property, and we don’t have to take a lot of time to litigate, but previous efforts as of right now have failed,” Frieders said.

The DeKalb Fire Department recently inspected the building and found large amounts of mold along the ground level, as well as other hazards. According to the lawsuit, the estimated market value of the site is $65,000, but if the building were remediated and restored to a safe condition, its value would be $1.3 million.

That, however, would require more than $2.5 million in repairs and asbestos and mold remediation, according to a report compiled in October by general contractor Steve Irving.

Demolishing the property could cost $190,000, according to an estimate from Rockford-based Northern Illinois Service Co.

The nearby Campus Cinemas theater, which is not operational, also is experiencing legal action after its owner, Pete Occhipinti, filed a lawsuit against the city in January claiming that he was not notified of a 2013 zoning change, which he said devalued the property.

In order to ensure Occhipinti felt he received due process, the city moved to authorize a zoning map amendment to the designated light commercial zoning of the project. This course of action provides more transparency between the city and property owner, Frieders said.

A public hearing on the amendment took place during a city Planning and Zoning Commission meeting this month, where the commission recommended the light commercial rezoning amendment to the City Council.

Occhipinti said during the meeting that the hearing was another effort to devalue his property.

“You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game,” Occhipinti said.

City documents state there is no indication the property value of the subject site would be diminished by the zoning requested, in comparison with any other currently available zoning designation.

“The commission is aware of the litigation that is going on, and the city is certainly addressing that,” Frieders said. “We’re trying to make the most conservative possible route with a public hearing where you can present evidence, information or testimony related to the zoning of this property and put to rest permanently any question about whether adequate due process was provided.”

Frieders said the owner still can file a special use zoning permit if a fully developed set of plans is submitted.

Both derelict sites fall outside of DeKalb’s two tax increment financing districts, and therefore, they are not eligible for property tax revenues that those districts generate for rehabilitative efforts.

“Fundamentally, the question of whether to incentivize is something the council would have to give careful consideration,” Frieders said. “While we are always open to exploring those options, it [depends] on the property owners to rehabilitate, remediate or clear the properties. The city is always open to proposals for redevelopment through economic or non-economic means.”

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