Though a judge has not ordered village officials to allow developer and restaurateur Robert Marani to resume work on his unfinished condominium project at 7320 Madison, the village’s building department has perhaps rendered moot Marani’s effort to overturn a stop-work order handed down in 2007. On Sept. 9, Marani received new permits allowing him to complete any unfinished units in the building.
“We’re caught in a Catch-22,” Village Administrator Tim Gillian said. “We’re trying to make sure the project gets finished. We’re just kind of stuck here.”
In late July, Marani filed a complaint in Cook County Circuit Court accusing the former head of Forest Park’s building department, Mike Boyle, of improperly interfering with his condo construction. Mayor Anthony Calderone and Commissioner Mike Curry, who oversees that department, are also named as defendants. Marani filed the complaint in hopes of winning an injunction that would nullify an October 2007 stop-work order issued by the municipality. He also asked to be compensated for “severe emotional distress.”
In 2007, Marani was ordered to stop construction on the condos because of structural deficiencies, such as allegedly cutting through load-bearing supports in order to install rooftop decks. Work at the site had also made several substantial deviations from what had been approved by the village, according to the order signed by Boyle.
Four of the nine units at 7320 Madison have been sold and are currently occupied. On the ground-floor of the property are several storefronts. Marani’s restaurant and deli recently opened there in space that has seen several transformations, from La Piazza to La Bella Bistecca to the current Shuckin’ Grill.
In his complaint, Marani claims he made every attempt to satisfy Boyle’s concerns with the building, but that Boyle took extreme measures to defeat the project. Marani accused the former building chief of withholding various reports from others involved in the oversight process.
At the time the complaint was filed, Calderone said he stood by Boyle’s decisions.
“I believe that the building department has been consistent with Marani in seeking code compliance,” Calderone said then.
Asked about the issuance of new permits, the mayor said he’s not familiar with what Marani is being allowed to do at the site. He still stands by the village’s earlier decision to halt construction, but offered that there “may be a sound reason for issuing these permits.”
“I don’t have anything to offer because I’m not directly involved in all that permitting stuff,” Calderone said.
Gillian did not officially begin working as village administrator until Sept. 15, almost a week after the permits were issued. When asked by the Review whether Marani had recently been issued new permits, Gillian initially said he was not certain.
The new permits issued to Marani do not mean that the structural issues have been resolved, said Gillian. Public officials are being “very careful” about how the project proceeds, he said, and the severity of any structural problems will be addressed in an engineer’s report. That report was yet to be received by the village as of Sept. 28. Still, the risk to the public’s safety is not great, he said.
“Probably not,” Gillian said of the likelihood of potential hazards. “But it’s not built the way it’s supposed to be. There’s no real danger of the roof collapsing or anything like that.”
In the meantime, Gillian said Marani is allowed to install plumbing, electrical, flooring, cabinetry and any other item necessary to complete the condos.
The village’s primary focus, said Gillian, is bringing the structure into compliance with local regulations. Marani’s failure to adhere to the village’s regulatory processes has been a problem, said Gillian. Too, tenants living in the building have had to put up with a myriad of issues related to incomplete and shoddy work. Jeff Rinker, an inspector for the village, said water damage is a major concern.
“They have a building that’s not weather sealed; that’s not weather tight,” Rinker said.
A 2008 lawsuit filed by condo owners lists water damage as one of several problems caused by the faulty craftsmanship that riddles the property. That case is still pending.
On March 31, Fifth Third Bank filed foreclosure documents on the property.
According to Rinker, none of the elected officials pressured his office to issue permits for the embattled site. Curry acknowledged playing an integral role in negotiating with Marani and his attorney on what type of work would be allowed to continue at the site. Once those details were hammered out, said Curry, there was no need to lean on municipal inspectors.
“Once the building department realized the situation, the stop-work order was removed,” Curry said.
Initially, Curry deflected a question about why such an agreement couldn’t be reached while Boyle was head of the department, and told the Review to “ask Mike Boyle.” Pressed for an answer, Curry said that in the last few months he learned that structural problems affecting residents of the property were not being addressed and he stepped in on their behalf.
Marani declined to comment on his pending claim against the village.
Boyle suddenly left his job as head of the building department about a week after Marani filed his complaint, and village officials have said only that Boyle resigned. Because of a confidential severance agreement between the council and Boyle, it is not clear whether Marani’s civil complaint had a bearing on Boyle’s departure.
The severance agreement also paid Boyle an undisclosed sum of money, and Commissioner Marty Tellalian has described the payment as “hush money.”
Obtaining permits to resume work on the unfinished properties is also a critical piece of Marani’s plan to auction the remaining units on Nov. 5. Kelly Frank, executive vice president of Auction Services Group, which is managing the bid, said the condos will be sold as finished units. The work may not be complete by the date of the auction, said Frank, but the condos would be ready by the anticipated closing date in December.
Frank said he is aware of the permitting controversies surrounding the property, and indicated that Boyle’s departure was a pivotal moment for Marani.
“My understanding is the head of that department is now gone, and [Marani’s] not had any issues getting permits since then,” Frank said.
Bidding for the condos will begin at $135,000, a nearly 60 percent reduction in the original asking price of $348,000.