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Kate Crofford has grown to hate the rain. She certainly can’t control the weather and, lately, she’s barely able to escape it.
At Briolette Beads, on the first floor of 7320 Madison where Crofford is the store manager, rain water has persistently found its way indoors. In recent weeks, however, the water began pouring in at such an alarming rate that Crofford asked a friend to install gutters – in the store.
“I call this, Kate’s Hillbilly Fix-it Shop,” Crofford said recently with as much humor as she could muster.
To the best of anyone’s knowledge, the water is leaking through the roof of the three-story mixed-use condo building that houses Briolette Beads. A drainage pipe isn’t flowing properly, and unfinished rooftop decks have left the surface permeable, public officials and building tenants have said.
How the situation became so untenable is a more difficult question to answer.
Michael Pugh and his wife, Genevieve Pazdan, live in of the residential units above the bead shop. The couple recently shot video of water streaming into the store and, in the basement, dripping through an electrical box. Their footage was posted on YouTube.com and has made the rounds through Forest Park’s building department. Commissioner Mike Curry, who oversees that office, confirmed he has seen the video. What he could not confirm, he said, is its authenticity.
“I am aware that there is a You Tube video that alleges there is some water leaking into the building,” Curry said.
The commissioner did acknowledge that a “waterfall inside a building” isn’t a good situation.
For several years, the property at 7320 Madison has been embroiled in controversy. Of the nine residential condos there, five are unfinished, unsold and in foreclosure; an auction is scheduled for Nov. 5.
In 2008, the tenants sued the building’s developer, Robert Marani, for faulty craftsmanship that they claim has led to a bevy of problems, including water damage. But for a two-year period beginning in 2007, Marani was unable to do any work on the property because the village, under the former buildings chief, Mike Boyle, slapped him with a stop-work order.
Then, when Marani filed a complaint in circuit court this summer seeking the right to resume construction, Boyle was ushered out of village hall with a cash settlement and a severance agreement guaranteeing his silence. New permits were issued to Marani, and the municipality has said priority number one is to see the building made weather tight.
Progress, finally, may be occurring.
On a rainy Friday afternoon, about two weeks after her indoor gutters were put to use in early October, Crofford said the buckets stationed throughout the store to collect dripping water remained dry. Just outside the shop, village work crews were digging up the sidewalk to repair a busted drainage system that may have been causing storm water to flow backwards – all the way up a roof drain on the top of the condo building.
Village Administrator Tim Gillian said inspectors from the Department of Public Health and Safety have been at the property at least daily since Pugh’s video hit the Web. Gillian said the immediate problem of water pouring into Briolette Beads has likely been resolved, but there remain a number of significant issues at the site.
“It’s not fixed all the way, because the building is not waterproof,” Gillian said.
Tenants in the building have been adamant that they are not comfortable with Marani doing the construction work himself, but the building owner said he intends to systematically go through the building and fix any outstanding issues, beginning with making sure the structure is water tight. Though he said he isn’t interested in laying blame for the conditions tenants have had to endure, Marani pointed to the village’s cease-and-desist order that stood for two years.
“When you leave a building open and unfinished, you have problems,” he said.
Jeff Rinker, a building inspector for the village charged with supervising the project, said it is “understandable” that tenants don’t want Marani performing the work. He was “breaking the rules at will,” said Rinker.
Marani does hold a general contractor’s license with the village, and several public officials said it would be difficult to revoke that license. Anyone with the money for a permit and insurance can receive a license through the village.
With all these problems on the table, there is finger-pointing aplenty: The construction was sub-standard, tenants failed to assure themselves of a quality product, and municipal regulations were poorly enforced. On a project widely known by those in village hall to be riddled with problems, why were condo buyers allowed to move in?
To receive an occupancy permit for a condo within a multi-unit building in Forest Park, local inspectors are only interested in the condition of that specific condo, according to Bob Teets, interim director of the Department of Public Health and Safety. That common areas such as hallways, the roof, stairs and other generally used portions of the building weren’t complete is irrelevant to the issuance of an occupancy permit for a single unit within the building.
Curry, commissioner of the department, confirmed those are the standards that apply in Forest Park.
“That’s basically what happened with this building,” Curry said.
Responsibility for any damage to those condos, however, would depend on whether inspectors knew the building was not weatherproof, he said.
“To say the village is responsible for something it has no knowledge of and can’t discern with a competent inspection, that’s beyond the scope of the village,” Curry said.
Not all municipalities issue occupancy permits for multi-unit buildings in the same way. In neighboring Oak Park, Chief Building Inspector John Ross said his office will not look at a specific unit until the building as a whole passes inspection. Roofs must be complete, stairways must have railings and windows must be properly installed in the entire building before anyone can move into even a portion of the property.
“My inspectors won’t go into the building until they see a permit for the common areas and the first floor,” Ross said.
Because officials in Forest Park have been focused lately on stopping the flow of water through the walls, ceilings and electrical panels at 7320 Madison, Gillian said the process of identifying shortcomings within the village’s inspection process has not yet surfaced.