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Just the Facts

The purpose of this feature is to be transparent and direct with the community about topics relating to the City of DeKalb. The feature is an effort by the City of DeKalb to dispel rumors and clear up confusion on a variety of matters. Just the Facts will be updated as rumors, misperceptions, or topics of confusion arise in the community. 

Apr 13

Does the City engage in sanitary inspections of food service establishments?

Posted on April 13, 2018 at 1:44 PM by Ray Munch

The City recently received the following inquiry:

If 16.01 of the City Code reads, “The licensing and sanitary inspection of food service and food store establishments within the City of DeKalb shall be conducted by the DeKalb County Health Department, in accordance with rules and regulations prescribed by the DeKalb County Code,” were the City’s recent actions for Lord Stanley’s, Common Grounds, and the Annex in conflict with the city code?

The City does not engage in sanitary inspections of food service establishments in the fashion that the County Health Department does.  There is no discrepancy in this instance.  The City does not test food temperatures, verify disinfectant measures, review food preparation and expiration dates, or take similar actions that are “in accordance with rules and regulations prescribed by the DeKalb County Code.”  The City does not have codes that address food temperature or preparation. 

However, pursuant to the very next paragraph in the Section cited by the resident who posed the above question, the City is authorized to conduct fire-life safety inspections at food service establishments.  In the course of those inspections, as outlined in the remainder of that Section, the City enforces those requirements which also include an evaluation as to whether the “building’s management, owner, or occupants conduct, maintain or allow to exist conditions or violations of any/all locally adopted building codes, this Municipal code and the Unified Development Ordinance of the City…or which are a menace to the health safety or general welfare of the public” (Section 16.06 (3) ).  These basic codes are applicable to all properties (restaurant or not) and address building sanitation and conditions, such as the organic growth observed to be occurring in the basement of Lord Stanley's.  If that same form of growth was observed in any property, it would have been cause for significant concern.  That it occurred in such close proximity to food may heighten the level of potential harm to the public, but the underlying violation is a violation of City code, regardless of the type of building.  The City's inspection did not extend to any matters not covered by City Code and did not violate the ordinance cited above.  Chief Building Official Mack's inspection report cited to sections of the 2015 International Property Maintenance Code, as adopted by the City, which is uniformly applicable to all structures in the City. The City does and will always defer to the Health Department on food-related items as the City Code is currently written. 

Apr 10

Condemnation of Lord Stanley's, The Annex, and Common Grounds

Posted on April 10, 2018 at 5:18 PM by Ray Munch

On Friday, April 6, 2018, the City took action to declare an emergency condemnation of the premises at 142-150 E. Lincoln Highway, commonly known as Lord Stanley's, The Annex and Common Grounds.  The condemnation was undertaken based on significant property maintenance and sanitation issues identified at Lord Stanley's, as well as significant structural deterioration concerns in the basement and floor structure constituting the main first-floor commercial area of The Annex and Common Grounds.  The City also identified several concerns on basic life-safety issues that pose significant hazards to resident well-being, for those residents who live in the second-floor apartments over those establishments.

There were no health or sanitation issues identified within the premises of Common Grounds; all concerns with that part of the building were confined to structural concerns under the business, which the owner of Common Grounds was not aware of.

To provide full transparency as to the reasons for the emergency condemnation, the City presented both a chronology of events and a PowerPoint of exemplary photographs to the City Council at its regular meeting on April 9, 2018.  Copies of that PowerPoint and chronology are provided herein, to fully inform the public.

The City took prompt actions with the owners of the buildings to implement emergency remediation and repairs and was able to avoid condemning the residential portions of the property.  Owners of both Lord Stanley’s as well as the building housing the Annex and Common Grounds have been responsive and taken immediate steps toward resolution.  Lord Stanley’s has been able to take temporary measures to remediate some issues in the short term and is actively working with City staff to address the remaining items and has been permitted to reopen as of April 10, 2018.  The owner of the building housing Common Grounds and The Annex have also engaged the appropriate engineer to assess structural deficiencies and prepare a report with temporary and long-term solutions to stabilize the structure.  The City is working directly with the owner of the remainder of the building to address the safety concerns therein and to permit the reopening of the affected businesses (The Annex and Common Grounds).

The City takes building safety seriously and is committed to working with responsive owners to improve the quality of buildings throughout the City, as well as taking measured enforcement action necessary to protect the public safety.

Community Development Presentation to City Council on 4/9/2018


·         Thursday, April 5, 2018:

o   3:00pm: Fire Prevention Officer (FPO) Lynch and Chief Building Official (CBO) Thaddeus Mack go to Lord Stanley’s to conduct annual Fire Life Safety (FLS) inspection.  FLS inspections are performed during normal business hours of licensed establishments, unscheduled, to determine real conditions within the premises.

§  Inspection includes Lord Stanley’s and a portion of the basement of Annex; does not extend to basement of Lord Stanley’s, or the basement under Common Grounds.  Inspection is halted shortly before 5:00pm.

§  CBO and FPO speak with Lord Stanley’s employees and set up scheduled appointment to return at 10:00am the following day.

·         Friday, April 6, 2018:

o   10:00am:  FPO and CBO return to Lord Stanley’s; employee of establishment is there to unlock and let them in for inspection.

§  Inspection of Lord Stanley’s reveals extent of significant property maintenance concerns in Lord Stanley’s basement, with large areas of organic growth (including in areas of food storage), unsanitary conditions, areas with floor tiles that may contain asbestos, and other property maintenance violations.

§  Further inspection of The Annex shows a number of more severe conditions that jeopardize the structural integrity of the property and pose an immediate hazard to first floor occupants.

§  Inspection of common hallways for second floor residential shows a number of propane cylinders being stored indoors, as well as the complete absence of fire extinguishers.

§  Inspection continued all morning and into early afternoon.  FPO and CBO returned to City Hall to review codes and determine plan for addressing building; advised employees that FPO and CBO would return.

o   2:25pm:  FPO calls Mark Thomson, owner of Lord Stanley’s (at west end of building) regarding concerns at the property, both in residential and commercial areas.  FPO explains that property will be condemned pending remediation.

o   2:25pm:  City Attorney calls attorney for Mark Thomson and advises of concerns identified at property and emergency condemnation. 

o   ~2:30pm:  FPO returns to property while CBO works on drafting written notices to property owners. 

§  Commercial areas posted. 

§  FPO speaks with Thomson’s brother at property and explains the concerns for residential area.  Thomson’s brother removes propane cylinders and discusses timeline to install smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.  Based on timeline for repair and desire to avoid displacing tenants unnecessarily, owner allowed to complete repairs over the weekend (install fire extinguishers.

§  Residential doors posted with notice indicating that condemnation was contemplated for following Monday.

§  FPO speaks with manager from World Famous Pizza as well as Lord Stanley’s.

o   ~4:00pm:  Tenant in Common Grounds provides access to basement of that facility, for purposes of inspection.  Structural concerns identified.  Tenant came to basement to personally observe the concerns.

§  Common Grounds posted as condemned.

o   4:50pm:  CBO calls Bill Valos, owner of building containing The Annex and Common Grounds.  CBO explains concerns to him and enumerates all identified issues.

o   5:32pm:  CBO has second phone call with Valos regarding building issues.

o   5:54pm:  Economic Development Planner Jason Michnick has phone call with owner of Common Grounds to offer support.

o   6:10pm:  CBO has first phone call with Thomson regarding emergency repairs and efforts that can be undertaken.

·         Sunday, April 8, 2018:

o   Concerns regarding misinformation identified; staff took actions to post a notice at the property explaining current status.

·         Monday, April 9, 2018:

o   8:30am:  CBO has phone call with Valos regarding building conditions and potential for emergency repair.

o   11:15am:  CBO meets Thomson at Lord Stanley’s to review temporary repair/remediation work he performed there over the weekend.  Notice letter outlining all code deficiencies hand delivered.

o   12:21pm:  CBO has second phone call with Valos regarding building conditions and repairs.

o   1:30pm:  CBO meets at The Annex / Common Grounds with Valos and Valos’ structural engineer to discuss remediation plans and temporary shoring.  Notice letter outlining all code deficiencies hand delivered.

o   2:00pm:  CBO re-inspects common hallways in residential portions of 2nd floor above annex, and confirms that condemnation is not required.


Anticipated Timeline for Remediation of Structural Concerns at The Annex and Common Grounds:  Pursuant to today’s on-site meeting, City is awaiting remediation plan from Valos’ structural engineer.

Anticipated Timeline for Lifting Condemnation of Lord Stanley’s/World Famous Pizza:  Again, based on work owner completed over the weekend and today’s meeting, could be as soon as tomorrow, April 10th.

Feb 23

Cornerstone Development

Posted on February 23, 2017 at 8:35 AM by City of DeKalb

The City of DeKalb City Council recently discussed the proposed construction of a roughly $7,500,000 development located at the southeastern corner of Lincoln Highway and First Street, at the site of the former Otto’s.  The proposed development would consist of the demolition of four buildings at that location, and the construction of a new four-story mixed-used facility with extensive first floor commercial (inclusive of a proposed upscale bar/grill and the relocation of the existing Barb City Bagels to a new facility), with 51 one-bedroom, premium apartments located on the upper three floors.  Since the public discussion of the project, there have been some misconceptions regarding the nature of the project, which are outlined below.

Cornerstone Development

Fact One:  The City worked extensively to save Otto’s, but the Owner declined to fix the property, and it is presently beyond repair.

The Otto’s building suffered broken pipes in January of 2014 when the Owner failed to properly heat the building.  Those pipes caused flooding and damage inside the building.  Following that event, the Owner never undertook repairs to the building, and never even applied for a building permit.  Several months after the flooding, the Owner surrendered the liquor license for the premises and chose to not reopen.  The building presently has significant damage that jeopardizes its safety and structural integrity, and requires hundreds of thousands of dollars of environmental remediation.  The pictures below show some of the condition of the building:

Building Condition

Building Condition

The City worked with the Owner extensively to avoid having to pursue demolition of the building.  Finally, 990 days after the initial flooding, the City was forced to file a legal action seeking remediation or demolition of the structure, based upon the public safety threat that the building poses.  Because of the Owner’s failure to maintain the building, it is believed that interior water damage has caused weakening of the common brick wall shared between the Otto’s building and the adjacent building in which the Mediterraneo’s restaurant is located.

Fact Two:  The City has a need for premium, one-bedroom rental units in the downtown.

Some have raised concerns that the construction of new residential rental units will generate further vacancy in other residential rentals.  Recent market experience has shown that there is market demand for units of this nature.  For example, a recent premium apartment development completed in Sycamore by the developer proposing the Cornerstone project has a wait list for apartments that exceeds supply several times over.  The City does not presently have a housing product that serves the market that Cornerstone will serve.

Fact Three:  The City needs greater population density in the central business district.

The City has commissioned several studies and plans for the downtown area that identify the best opportunities to restore a vibrant downtown.  Those plans all indicate that the City needs a greater density of daytime and nighttime population to support local business, create traffic, and generate commercial opportunities.  Other communities that have a vibrant downtown area also feature significant, high-quality residential opportunities.  The availability of premium rental units in the downtown will bring new population to the downtown and spur other commercial opportunities.

Fact Four:  In a healthy community, restaurants benefit from adjacent and nearby restaurant developments.

The suggestion has been made that if a new restaurant opens, it will hurt the business of existing restaurants.  That suggestion is based upon the premise that the City has a fixed market of consumers and cannot draw new interest.  A quality, attractive development that adds to the core of existing dining opportunities in the downtown can draw new interest in the downtown, and bring more consumers into the City to dine and generate revenue.  Again, looking at areas that have successful, busy downtown core commercial areas, they typically feature a wide array of dining options, so that consumers have multiple choices and can select an alternate venue if the wait at one restaurant is too significant.

Fact Five:  Without a City incentive, redevelopment of the site will not occur.

The City has been working for a period of years to attract any commercial interest in the property at issue, to no avail.  Constructing a development on this site requires costly environmental remediation, demolition, site restoration and utility improvements that put the downtown at a competitive disadvantage in comparison to building a new structure in vacant areas or other communities.  The practical experience of those seeking to undertake significant developments in the downtown is that it is difficult if not impossible to obtain commercial lending to support the redevelopment.  Because of the significant cost penalty associated with redevelopment in the downtown, if the City wishes to see redevelopment occur in that area, an incentive is necessary.

Separate from the costs of remediating and demolishing the safety concerns at the Otto’s and Mediterraneo’s buildings, the tenants in the existing building at 122 S. First Street have reported issues with the building roof, envelope and mechanical systems.  The age of the buildings and the failure to maintain the buildings over long periods of time has generated deterioration that makes the properties unviable for development without public support.

Fact Six:  The project will generate a significant return on investment for the City and for other taxing districts.

This project is being evaluated on the basis of a thirty-year repayment, based on the nature of commercial lending and the common approach of utilizing a 30 mortgage.  This project contemplates a $3,000,000 public incentive, repayable over those thirty years.  Within that period, the City will receive between $3,200,000 and $4,000,000 of new tax revenue (excluding amounts paid to other taxing districts under existing intergovernmental agreements).  Community wide, the City and other taxing districts stand to gain between $8,000,000 and $12,000,000 over that same period.  By way of contrast, the properties are presently valued at a lower valuation than they were 30 years ago, and only generate $33,000 of property tax per year.

Fact Seven:  The project will be adequately served by parking.

Numerous reviews of the available parking in the central business district have shown that the City has adequate parking available.  Even during peak events, the City has available parking within a short walking radius of the downtown.  Further, while current zoning codes do not require the developer to provide parking, the developer would both be adding 40-45 new parking spaces, and agreeing to permit the parking area to be used as a part of a future parking deck if the City later had a need for structured parking.

Fact Eight:  The parties will work to minimize impact on existing businesses.

With the deterioration of several of the structures, the unfortunate fact is that some demolition will have to occur, regardless of this project.  With this project, the demolition will lead to new construction and benefit to the community.  Without this project, the demolition will simply generate more vacant lots in the downtown.  The demolition and construction will undoubtedly have an impact on downtown traffic patterns and access to the sidewalks immediately adjacent to the property.  However, the City and developer will work to mitigate that impact, and the project will generate benefit to surrounding properties and businesses.

Fact Nine:  The project has been exhaustively reviewed and makes financial sense.

Some have suggested that this project requires due diligence, and the City agrees—a project with an incentive request of this nature requires careful review.  To that end, the City has completed the most detailed staff review of an incentive request that has ever been completed in the history of the City.  Moreover, the City has shared the results of that analysis publicly, including the detailed calculations underlying each assertion.  Further, the City has retained an independent, third party consultant to review the developer’s pro forma and financial assumptions and to make a recommendation on the viability of the project and legitimacy of the incentive request. That analysis supports the City’s conclusion that the project will generate an incredibly positive return on investment, community wide.  More specifically, the analysis shows that the project requires the public incentive in order to be possible, given the challenges that the site poses.  As proposed, even if the City Council gives preliminary approval, the project will still undergo further review once final plans are prepared.

Fact Ten:  The City is working on an expedited timeline and to allow the potential of this development to be realized.

The City is cognizant of criticism that is sometimes leveled at all units of government, that government bureaucracy moves too slowly and can hinder private development.  In this case, the project involves interlocking timelines on the contracts to purchase five separate parcels of property.  The developer was fortunate enough to be able to get all of the properties under contract with simultaneous review periods, and if this project is to occur, the timeline for initial consideration and conceptual approval has to be expedited.  Notwithstanding that expedited timeline, the project will be reviewed at three separate public meetings before even conceptual approval is granted.