Fallout from summer fires still plague DeKalb, Sycamore

St. Albans Green rubble declared asbestos-free, ready for demolition

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SYCAMORE – The rubble from what remains of Building A at the St. Albans Green apartment complex still smells like fire almost three months later, but the owner said demolition is on the horizon.

DeKalb-based developer Jim Mason of Mason Properties said a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency revealed no asbestos issues at the site, 711 S. Main St. in Sycamore, so no environmental remediation will be necessary. He said demolition will occur within a month.

“We just got our EPA report back, and everything’s approved,” Mason said this week. “They checked the burn sites for asbestos. Within the next 30 days we’ll be taking that stuff to the junkyard, since nothing there can be salvaged. The foundation will be taken out. It’s a 100% loss.”

The building was destroyed by a fire the night of July 27 and is uninhabitable.

Mason has said he plans to rebuild luxury townhomes on the site, and in September presented a preliminary proposal to the Sycamore City Council. After demolition of the old building, he will take site plans to Sycamore's Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council for approval by January.

Deputy Fire Chief Art Zern said the fire investigation is complete and revealed a likely cause, but there is no way to prove it.

“There’s no new information,” Zern said Thursday. “I think we have a strong suspicion of the cause, and we can’t prove it.”

Reports after the fire suggested that a St. Albans tenant unintentionally set fire to the building by improperly putting out a cigarette on a second-floor balcony and then leaving.

“I know who it was; the person admitted it,” Mason said. “But I don’t know what can be done. This person didn’t do it on purpose I don’t think. That’s not even for me to decide, that’s up to the police. The thing is, this person doesn’t have any money and it’s hard to sue a street person.”

Zern said the site is not hazardous, but debris will need to be disposed of properly now that Mason has a demolition permit.

The St. Albans fire closed out a fiery July for DeKalb County, with two other apartment fires in DeKalb, which also left condemned a Hunter Ridgebrook apartment complex, 808 Ridge Drive in DeKalb, owned by Evanston-based Hunter Properties, which operates the most units in the city.

Hunter Properties

Attorney Clay Campbell, who represents Hunter Properties LLC, said a developer has expressed interest in purchasing the shuttered 808 Ridge Drive property, although DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas said nothing concrete is on the table.

An email exchange between Campbell and City Attorney Matthew Rose shows Northbrook-based Housing Opportunity Development Corp. is a “potentially interested developer.”

The corporation's website shows it specializes in providing affordable housing to low- and middle-income families.

Nicklas said Friday that a representative from the company came out and viewed a few buildings owned by Hunter in August, but nothing has occurred since.

“That is literally it,” Nicklas said. “I’ve not received any indication from the person we talked to that they’re serious to go to a next step, which would be the possibility of sitting down and discussing prices.”

Campbell –  who’s defending Hunter Properties as it faces more than 500 code violations and still-unpaid fines of $105,3000 – called the situation “murky.”

“It struck me as them being really heavy-handed on the enforcement of these ordinances to try and somehow redevelop this area,” Campbell said. “It strikes me as them trying to use their regulatory authority to condemn buildings or drive prices of properties down so they can be purchased more cheaply.”

Rose said the city continues to deny allegations brought forward in a lawsuit that Hunter Properties LLC filed against the city Aug. 17, alleging "unequal discriminatory" treatment.

“The city is going to file a motion to dismiss which is due to be filed Tuesday,” Rose said Thursday. “The city would unequivocally deny all the allegations in the lawsuit if it went there. We would say it’s meritless and it’s disappointing that that’s what they resorted to instead of managing their properties like any responsible property manager.”

DeKalb County court records show city inspectors have cited Hunter Properties more than 500 times for code violations since 2017, none of which have yet been paid, according to both Campbell and Rose.

To have 808 Ridge uncondemned, the property owners would have to remedy much of the interior, including code violations that existed before the fire, Rose said. Campbell denies that any such violations exist.