What makes a developer think he can win approval for one design and construct an entirely different building? How did no one at the city notice until the structure was almost complete? What happens now? Those are the big questions surrounding the Di Rimini apartment project at the southeast corner of Capitol Avenue and St. Clair Street. The Department of Code Enforcement issued a stop-work order in September for the project at 733 N. Capitol Ave., and senior city planner Jeff York gave developer Di Rimini LLC a list of 35 points where the project built differs from the one approved. Developer Jeff Sparks met with city planners on Friday to offer proposed fixes, but York tells Property Lines the developer's offer was not adequate. "The plans we received from Mr. Sparks were less than what we were expecting," York said. "We are continuing discussions internally to figure out next steps."
If the developer can't come to terms with city planners, the current approval could be voided and ultimately the fate of the project could wind up in court. The fact the project is almost complete could play in the developer's favor. So why didn't the city notice sooner? Because "the property owner is ultimately responsible for performing the work they say they will," said Kate Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Code Enforcement. In this case, the developer secured permits for a project that matched the approved plans but went ahead and built something else, she said. The department doesn't inspect properties for plan compliance unless they receive a complaint. "The fault is the developer's," York added. "We don't have the staff to doublecheck to see if every project is built as approved."
IBJ reported on the front page of Monday's print edition how neighbors had wondered for months whether the Di Rimini 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. The violations pose the biggest test yet for the city’s 2-year-old urban design guidelines, as neighbors and other developers watch closely to see whether the city enforces the new rules. The city’s planning staff met five separate times with Sparks and his attorney to ensure the project would meet the guidelines. And after the developer agreed to a long list of changes, a hearing examiner approved the proposal in October 2009. Construction began early this year. Planning Administrator Mike Peoni said the developer thought “they were getting the project approved conceptually” and not each specific detail. He said Sparks, who refused to discuss the building with IBJ, was apologetic and humble in a meeting with planners.