A sizeable apartment building in south Oak Park has sat vacant for years after the previous owner couldn’t finish converting it into condos. It’s become a blight on the community, neighbors say, pointing to the boarded-up windows and overgrown weeds.

So, a neighborhood group called the South East Oak Park Community Organization is urging the village to take action against Bridgeview Bank, which now owns the building. A member of SEOPCO spoke at a village board meeting last week about the property at 111 Garfield.

“Besides being an eyesore, the abandoned property on Garfield Avenue (sic) is a public safety hazard and a nuisance,” said SEOPCO member Stuart Barnes Jamieson in reading a prepared statement last week.

The property was formerly owned by Brunilda Martinez-Rupp. She bought the 12-unit apartment building with a plan to convert it into nine condos, according to the village. Work got under way but has halted, as Bridgeview Bank foreclosed on the property in January 2007. The bank gained ownership of the building July 13, according to John Ross, chief property inspector of the village.

Ross says the village tried putting pressure on the former owner, but she was the definition of an absentee landlord. A court date was scheduled for Martinez-Rupp in June 2008, but she never showed up.

With Bridgeview Bank taking over, the ownership picture is clearer. Ross planned to send a packet of information to the bank, telling them that the property needs to be registered as a vacant building. Such a designation requires a minimum level of upkeep, annual registration, fees and other benchmarks.

Ross estimated that the building has been sitting in a state of disrepair since at least January 2007. He also plans to ask the bank to address a deteriorating wall on the west side of the property.

The Oak Park Residence Corp. has been interested in buying the property to convert it into affordable housing for the last three or four years, said Executive Director Ed Solan. But they feel the $800,000 to $900,000 asking price from Bridgeview is far too steep.

“If we could put something together, we’d certainly like to see something positive there,” he said. “It’s been sitting vacant for too long, which is not good for the building or the neighborhood.”

SEOPCO wrote a letter to the bank in April, asking it to consider the Residence Corp.’s proposal. With no response, the organization is asking the village board to step in to encourage Bridgeview Bank to give first consideration to local, “reputable” developers. The building is in a high-traffic location, where many visitors enter Oak Park from Austin Boulevard, said Jim Kelly, co-chairman of the organization.

“It’s an ugly welcome to a beautiful neighborhood,” he said.

A bank official declined to comment to Wednesday Journal.

Joan Selden, 66, who lives across the alley from the building, says that it’s been deteriorating for years. She tried to get a decrease in her property taxes because of her townhouse’s location nearby it.

“It’s a detriment to the neighborhood,” she said.

CONTACT: mstempniak@wjinc.com

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