By Robert Channick
A North Shore developer has agreed to retrofit a 3-year-old Evanston luxury apartment building to settle a lawsuit over disability access.
The 175-unit building at 1717 North Ridge Ave. will undergo renovation over the next five years, making everything from bathrooms and kitchens to mailboxes easier for people in wheelchairs to use, according to the agreement.
In addition to the repairs, Northfield-based Focus Development and Booth Hansen, the building’s architects, will each pay $87,500 in damages and court costs to Open Communities, the nonprofit fair housing organization that filed the federal discrimination lawsuit in January 2015.
The Fair Housing Act requires certain multifamily dwellings built after 1991 to be accessible to people with disabilities.
“Today we celebrate a victory for people with disabilities in Evanston,” Gail Schechter, executive director of Winnetka-based Open Communities, said in a statement Friday announcing the settlement. “And by upholding their fair housing rights, we also uphold the rights of all people, including those with mobility impairments, to live in the housing of their choice.”
The lawsuit followed a 2014 complaint filed by Open Communities with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development over the eight-story apartment building, which includes studio and one-, two- and three-bedroom rental units, as well as a fitness center, pool and other common areas.
Concerns included high thresholds at patio entrances, insufficient space within bathrooms, and kitchen sinks and ranges not fully usable by people in wheelchairs, all of which will be renovated under the terms of the settlement. Other modifications will include a curb cut on Ridge Avenue and a restriping of the garage to avoid parking obstructions.
Focus and Booth Hansen denied the discrimination allegations but agreed to settle the claim “to avoid the cost and disruption of protracted litigation,” according to the settlement.
“We recognized that there were a few items that were noncompliant,” Justin Pelej, director of development at Focus, said Monday. “We agreed to fix what was ours and move on.”
Pelej declined to disclose the estimated cost of repairs.
Focus sold the building for $70 million to Atlanta-based Invesco in September 2013 — five months after it was completed.
In November, Open Communities settled an accessibility lawsuit with Minneapolis-based Ryan Companies, which agreed to make $2.7 million in alterations to more than 900 apartments in 10 housing complexes in Illinois and Iowa.
Open Communities’ Press Release: Evanston Developers Reach Agreement to Make High-rise Accessible to People with Disabilities: 175 Apartments to Become Open to All