City halts apartment developer

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Dirimini The city gave Di Rimini LLC a list of 35 points where the project differs from the one approved. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Neighbors wondered for months whether the Di Rimini apartment project at the southeast corner of Capitol Avenue and St. Clair Street eventually would resemble the renderings they had seen.

The 31-unit building taking shape had fewer and different windows, less limestone and more synthetic stucco than promised. Two-story aluminum and glass storefronts were missing. The portion along St. Clair had three stories instead of four and was missing vertical columns.

Several directors for the not-for-profit Near North Development Corp. expressed concerns at a board meeting, leading the group to ask in an e-mail on Sept. 2 for the city planning department to take a look.

A week later, the Department of Code Enforcement issued a stop-work order for the project at 733 N. Capitol Ave. Senior planner Jeff York gave developer Di Rimini LLC a list of 35 points where the project built differs from the one approved. (UPDATE: City planners not impressed by developer's proposed fixes.)

The violations pose the biggest test yet for the city’s 2-year-old urban design guidelines, which developers and planners created to provide a basic framework for massing and scale of projects in the central business district. Neighbors and other developers are watching closely to see whether the city enforces the new rules.

Scroll to the end of this story to see a complete list of the 35 violations.

The city’s planning staff met five separate times with Di Rimini principal Jeff Sparks and his attorney to ensure the project would meet the guidelines, said Mike Peoni, administrator for the city’s department of planning. After the developer agreed to a long list of changes, a hearing examiner approved the proposal in October 2009, and the Metropolitan Development Commission gave its blessing in November. Construction began early this year.

Peoni said the developer thought “they were getting the project approved conceptually” and not each specific detail. He said Sparks was apologetic and humble in a recent meeting and has promised to produce new renderings showing planned fixes for the building, which replaced a vacant lot.

Those likely would include stone covering for the entire first floor rather than just sections, more windows with lintels and sills as promised, railings on the third level, landscape planter boxes, and balconies that line up with entry doors to give the building a more vertical look.

“We as a staff are trying to work out a solution with the developer,” Peoni said. “If we can’t get this worked out administratively, they’re going to have to go back to another public hearing. The burden is on them.”

Sparks, reached on his cell phone, said he had no comment, then hung up. He and his attorney, Jeff Bellamy of the local firm Thrasher Buschmann and Voelkel, did not return repeated phone messages.

Sparks has the 34,000-square-foot building listed for sale on LoopNet with an asking price of $6.7 million—about $216,000 per unit. The listing says the “upscale multifamily housing development” geared toward students is scheduled for completion by Oct. 1, and that about half the units have been leased by a for-profit college.

DiRimini boxSigns outside the building promote open houses every weekend and by appointment for the apartment units, which are being offered for $1,590 per month (includes one-car garage, stainless appliances and all utilities, including Internet and cable).

But no one will be moving in until the developer can reach terms with city planners. If they can’t agree, the current approval could be voided and ultimately the fate of the project could wind up in court.

“How did this happen? How could a plan that started as a promising project get turned into something that is a ghost of what was planned?” Urban Indy blog author Curt Ailes wrote in a post Sept. 28. One reader said the building looks like a Motel 6.

The changes from the agreed-upon building design have angered neighbors, particularly those who have followed the rules while investing in their own properties.

It’s the first time John Andrews, director of business development for locally based Shiel Sexton, can remember a developer securing approval for one set of plans and building another.

Shiel Sexton, a general contractor, has its headquarters a few blocks to the north, and Andrews had been watching with dismay as the building took shape in recent months.

“The renderings and what’s built don’t match up—it’s disappointing,” said Andrews, also a board member of the Near North Development Corp., which supported the original plan. “Everybody will watch intently as this unfolds to see what happens. Clearly, we all see what’s taken place here and we’ll see what the repercussions are for breaking the rules.”

Andrews said there are often good reasons for zoning variances, but such a blatant disregard of the rules should not be tolerated.

The building is a much more serious challenge to the urban design guidelines than the most prominent previous violation—a bright-yellow façade on a downtown Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant that the developer agreed to tone down in 2008.

“There are a lot of times people don’t follow what they’re supposed to be doing, but it’s usually not this major,” acknowledged York, the senior city planner. “Before, we had minor issues that could be worked out with minor changes. I think this is a test.”•

Violation inventory

The city has found the following problems with the Di Rimini project:

St. Clair Street elevation
Window openings are incorrect size and windows are of incorrect style.
Window placement is incorrect.
Stone placement is completely wrong in that it is constructed in sections as opposed to completely covering the first-floor level.
Windows are missing on the second level. The sliding doors are present but no windows, as shown on the approved plans.
All windows and doors do not have the required trim noted on the approved elevations (lintel and sill).
Railings on the second level were to provide shelter to entry doors below, which means the railings are in a different location than approved.
Railings are missing on the third level.
The fascia board below the cornice is missing.
The cornice is too narrow—massing appearance is uneven.
No vertical elements with up lighting are present.
Railings on the second level are essentially flush to the building façade— they should project two feet from building.
Railings on the third level are missing; they should be present and project out one foot from building.
Lack of steps, with railings to entry doors; constructed doors are at grade level.
Entry doors lack sidelights as shown on the approved plans.
Landscape planter boxes along St. Clair are missing.
Massing and scale of “tower” at northwest corner of building is designed totally differently from approved plans in that it should not be at that height at the property line.
Northwest corner of building has incorrect placement of windows, size of openings and style. Detailed trim is also missing. This corner overhangs street below and may be beyond property line.
Northwest corner of building seems to indicate a balcony is being constructed—not per plans.
North Plaza is missing. There is no common space (outdoor) at grade level, no two-story glass-enclosed space (now replaced with living space, apparently).
Capitol Avenue elevation
Massing and scale of building is designed totally differently from submitted plans.
Southwest corner of building is designed wrong in that the southern portion extends to the street (Capitol Avenue). It should be recessed and provide South Plaza, which is not present. There is no common area at grade level where South Plaza was proposed, no two-story glass-enclosed space (now replaced with living space, apparently).
The fascia board below the cornice is missing.
The cornice is too narrow—massing appearance is uneven.
No sidelights for doors are provided. No trim is present (lintel and sill).
Stone placement is wrong in that it is constructed in sections, as opposed to completely covering the first-floor level.
No vertical trim with up lighting is present.
Landscape planter boxes are missing.
Window openings, placement and style are all wrong. Some windows are missing, especially on the second level. No trim present (lintel and sill).
Balconies are under construction, when none were proposed or approved.
Details of storefront windows and doors were never submitted for administrative approval.
Railings on the second level should be projected two feet from building.
Railings are missing from the third level, should be present and project out one foot from building.
Windows were constructed on the fourth level, where no windows were approved—there should be ventilation screens.
Fifth-level windows are the wrong style and opening size and are missing railings (one-foot projection) and awnings.
Stone may not be Indiana limestone, which was called for in the plans.
Source: Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development


  • Weon Mr Sparks
    Wrong "Mr. Sparks" here. Not the same as the Heartland Film Festival Sparks. Do some homework.
  • Everybodys Fault
    Do to pre and post Goldsmith policy, any project of 30,000 cuft or larger may and will be inspected by the design pro of record, making monthly reports to a city project manager. Plus the failure to issue Certificates of Occupancy for more then 20 years, has left the city with a trick bag of violations, and unsafe structures. Remember the Steak N Shake in Clearwater were the ceiling collapsed, injuring several people?? No final inspection, no Certificate of Occupancy, not required under city policy at that time.
  • sorry miss statement
    The property should not be able to be sold at all or no one should be able to move into the property. I think the property should not even be able to be listed for sale.
  • the news should investigate
    The news channels should investigate this hole mess i have seen the inside and it is very poor workmanship. The building should be able to be sold it should be up to the builder to fix it or tear it down and start over and follow the the plains with no variation from it. The safety of the purcahers is a big part of it also. So let the news take a look at it. thank you
  • still actively leasing - YIKES!
    How is it that a project which currently is under a stop work order can continue to actively lease its units?? I called the leasing office number and they reported that they are having people move-in on Saturday, October 9th, and are conducting an Open House on the same day.

    Do they really have the okay to do this?
  • We tried to tell him...
    When Jeff brought these drawing for bidding we raised several concerns to him and his superintendent from Brooklyn, NY. ng his suppliers Glad to see we did not get involved...I wonder if Jeff is keeping his bills paid?
    You are a nice guy Jeff Sparks but construction/development are not your strong suits...stick to the good stuff you do w/Heartland.
    • So Called Architects...
      Let us be clear. This project was not designed by an Architect registered in the State of Indiana. JT Designers is responsible for the design, and the stamp was provided by an engineer (yes, engineers can stamp architectural plans in the State of Indiana). These unscrupulous fellows are favorites of the low-class developer set (Page, Beilouny, now Sparks) because their fees are a fraction of those required by a reputable, registered architect. I've had to clean up a couple of JT's messes, as their work is not only terribly unappealing aesthetically, but wrought with code violations, inferior products, and poor detailing. These guys leave stinking piles of construction everywhere they go.
      Iââ?¬â?¢d love to expound on the shortcomings of these silly developers and the laughably mislabeled ââ?¬Å?designersââ?¬Â? who enable them, but that would be more of an essay than a comment.
      Let me summate by saying that the State of Indiana needs to require architectural stamps for architectural projects.
    • Tear it Down
      This is the worst monstrosity since the Villagio was built. The entire point of having the guidelines is to let the development community know up front of what is expected so they play on a level playing field. Anything short of full application of the guidelines (which won a national planning award, btw) means they have failed.
    • Tear it down and start over
      It will sting, but we all know the developer needs to tear it down and start over. It's a relatively small cost now, but it will get bigger the longer he waits.

      That photo makes me giggle. It's like the Clampetts moved downtown. The city and the developer can point fingers all they want, but where was the "architect"? Any designer worth his/her AutoCAD license should have made a site visit & counseled against this steaming pile of architectural misery.

      But that's just my opinion and I could be wrong.
    • wrong partners
      He should have gotten Carl Brizzi and John Bales as partners... there never would have been any issues.
    • Stop Order
      The stop order at this point is worthless, the inspector has let the project go so long, that the developer will likely be able to argue for undue financial burden if taken to court.

      However, I agree that this is the ugliest building in the city. I drive by it daily on my way to work and it only gets worse with each passing day.

      My wife and I refer to it as "The Turd"
    • Scrape and Rebuild
      As a renter at the apartments nearby, I'm glad/hopeful that something is going to be done about this building. It's very disappointing that it was allowed to be built and is terribly plain and underwhelming. Everyday I drive by and can't believe it was allowed to be built.
    • UGLY
      This building is just plain ugly. I drive by it every day and wondered how they were getting away with it -- where were the building inspectors when this was going up?
    • Stop Work?
      Usually a Stop Work Order means work must stop, but not in this city. Just keep on workin' cause no one is watchin'. Good work Code Enforcement.
    • Communicate
      @cdc guy, Sounds like it is still a Code Enforcement issue. I wonder how Rick Powers will handle this one?
    • not zoning
      SE Guy, apparently permits were pulled for plans that were consistent with the RC Approval.

      This one seems to be on the inspector: s/he didn't notice that the building wasn't being built according to permitted plans.
    • Communicate
      Does anyone at the new Code Enforcement division even communicate with anyone at Zoning, or are they too busy raising the fees on all of us who play by the rules. This whole thing looks bad for Zoning, but the real culprit is likely code enforcement for not verifying the submitted plans conform with the Regional Center approval.

      Unfortunately, I have to agree with JAD. How can we trust an administration that would allow this to happen with oversight of far more complicated projects?
    • ???
      Why did it take this long (basically until the project is finished) for a stop workorder?

      Mayor Ballard, someone in a leadership position is GROSSLY INCOMPETENT! You do not just wake up one day to this. Great Government in action. If you could pay even just minimal attention to City Operations instead of playing Big City Developer and Finance Guru this would never have happened.

      I blame you personally for the GROSS INCOMPETENCE that is PERVASIVE in the city government seemingly in every department.

      As a Republican I will cast my vote for anyone other than you.
    • Bravo!
      I drive by this ugly brown building every day and it isn't getting any better.

      Can't wait to see how they improve it, something has to be done, its hideous. I hate to say it but knock it down and let a real developer build it from the ground up. . . .

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