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Some hope seen for pit of despair

Evanston officials are starting to have hope that new development may spring up sometime soon from the abandoned pit at the unfinished Sienna condominium development on the edge of downtown.

Evanston officials are starting to have hope that new development may spring up sometime soon from the abandoned pit at the unfinished Sienna condominium development on the edge of downtown.

At a meeting with residents and neighbors of the project Thursday night at the Evanston Public Library, the city’s planning director, Dennis Marino, said  the site has been in limbo for a couple of years after developer Tom Roszak got caught in the collapsing market for condos.

After building only two of the planned four buildings in what was originally planned as a development of about 220 units bounded by Ridge Avenue, Oak Avenue, Clark Street and the alley between Clark and Church streets, Roszak tried to shift gears and build a hotel on the remaining property.

But after financing for that idea fell through, Roszak filed for bankruptcy in the middle of last year and Inland Bank filed to foreclose on the project.

Marino said that while the foreclosure process hasn’t yet completed its way through the courts and Inland is still claiming not to be the owner of the site, the bank has started working with the city on some maintenance activities.

It’s also, he said, started to send a series of interested developers to meet with city officials over the past few months about possible ways to restart the development, on land that was once a parking lot for the Wiebolt’s department store.

Marino said the developers now are talking about building rental apartments rather than condos.

None of the talks have yet led to a firm proposal, and until the bank is able to gain ownership of the property and a developer can arrange financing for the project, construction can’t resume.

Marino said the planned development the city approved for the site contains detailed provisions about the size and shape of the remaining buildings and the materials to be used in their construction.

Any changes from that plan, he said, would require a developer to win City Council approval for the changes.

In the meantime, residents and neighbors are concerned about issues ranging from homeless people camping out in the abandoned site to water seeping into the underground garage from the pond that’s developed at the bottom of the pit.

Some neighbors asked why the city hasn’t forced the developer or bank to fill in the pit, noting that developers have backfilled the Kendall College site, the Evanston Theater site and a planned development at Main Street and Chicago Avenue.

But Walter Hallen of the city’s building division said what’s now the exterior wall of the Sienna’s underground garage was meant to become part of a larger structure and couldn’t bear the load of earth backfilled against it.

He said it would likely cost $500,000 to construct a retaining wall to permit backfilling of the site. And with the developer bankrupt and the bank not yet having legal title to the property, there’s no one willing or able to pick up that cost.

 

 

 

 

 

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