Empty lots don’t make good neighbors. That’s what a group of north Oak Park residents have found over the past six years.
Developer Robert Allen purchased a single-family home on Erie Street, just off Harlem Avenue, in 2002. No one has lived there since then. Since the home was razed in 2006, the property has remained an unkempt eyesore, neighbors say.
On June 9, the village cited Allen Realty and Builders for taking debris from another site they’re developing nearby on the 400 block of North Maple, and dumping it onto the Erie site.
The developer was fined $750 for accumulating the rubble, said Stephen Witt, director of building and property standards. After receiving notice from the village, Allen will have a week to remove the debris. Otherwise, Oak Park will remove it and put a lien on the property to recover the costs.
Witt said the owner has another hearing July 10 for the overgrown weeds on the property. No other citations have been issued for 1125 Erie to his knowledge.
Village spokesperson David Powers said the village has to stick to its ordinances in addressing the situation and is unable to get involved in neighbor-to-neighbor conflicts.
“A lot of things are being said that we don’t really have a place in responding to,” Powers noted.
John Michelotti, 47, lives just east of the site. He says he’s pleaded with the village for years to regulate the property and cite the owner for how poorly it’s been kept over the years. He made numerous calls to the village manager’s office, which were never returned.
“It’s about [the developer’s] behavior, and it’s about the village’s reluctance in enforcing their own laws,” he said. “It’s really that simple. Those laws are there to protect the safety of the whole community.”
His wife, Cindy Michelotti, has watched the problems fester over the years, from pipes bursting, to wild animals getting into the empty house. The village also ordered a fence around the site to be removed, which she said created a safety hazard.
Witt said it was taken down because construction wasn’t happening and neighbors complained that it was unsightly.
Cindy Michelotti watched recently as several dump trucks unloaded piles of debris, containing pipes, glass, and chunks of concrete, from the Maple site onto Erie.
“My biggest concern is the safety of the property because there are a lot of small children in the area,” she said, including in her family. “It’s laden with glass and sharp objects.”
Allen said he was following the orders of the village and filling the empty hole on Erie with dirt. He disputed that debris from Maple was being brought to the site.
“I’m not saying it doesn’t need to be cleaned up, but she’s wrong about construction debris being dumped there,” he said. Allen said he hired a company to trim some of the weeds and remove some leftover scraps from the old house on Erie. He believes the poor appearance of the lot is being overstated.
Allen said plans to build eight condominiums on the site were delayed for various reasons over the years. He cited the slow economy, a still pending building permit, and attempts to buy the Michelotti’s house to expand the project. He could not say when construction might start.
Other neighbors also expressed concern about the property.
“My particular problems have been all the weeds, weed trees and noxious vines that continue to intrude into our gardens,” said Eunice Jensen, 77, who lives in the coach house behind the Michelottis. “I am an avid gardener, and it has been very frustrating to have this unkempt piece of property next door.”
David Barsotti, 40, lives in a condominium across the alley from the lot. He’s bothered by a zoning variance the village granted to the property owner, allowing Allen to build an extra condo into the project. Barsotti attended all three zoning hearings. Allegedly, the project wasn’t feasible without an extra unit.
Barsotti believes the developer didn’t make a valid argument that the project needed another unit and thought the financials seemed far-fetched. The developer alleged that the development would increase property values in the area, but he feels values are headed in the other direction.
“This isn’t an issue about him trying to develop the property,” John Michelotti said. “This is an issue about him doing something unsafe next to my property. Someone’s getting paid to make sure he doesn’t cross the line, and they’re not doing that.”