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Uptown Developer Sued for 'Careless' Asbestos Removal from Somerset Place

UPTOWN — Officials ordered a developer renovating a defunct nursing home in Uptown to stop work there and filed a lawsuit against the developer after inspectors discovered crews "improperly and illegally" removing asbestos.

Before a zoning change cleared the way for Somerset Place to be converted into a residential and retail development, it was a controversial nursing home that housed felons along with the elderly and mentally ill until state officials shut it down because of patient safety issues.

Last week, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the city filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against Somerset Place Realty, the new owner of the property at 5009 N. Sheridan Rd.

Developer Zidan Management Group and general contractor Dubai, Inc., were also named in the eight-count suit, which seeks $400,000 in damages for various environmental violations related to faulty asbestos removal.

“Unfortunately, careless mishandling of this dangerous substance posed a health threat," Madigan said in a release Wednesday. "This legal action will ensure the workers take appropriate precautions and the contractors effectively clean up the location.”

City health inspectors and inspectors with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency allegedly saw workers "wearing only paper respirators," and indicated they "were not dressed properly for asbestos removal," according to Madigan's office.

The workers were also "removing pipe insulation, tile and mastic containing asbestos without enclosures and without following the proper wetting procedures," Madigan's office said.

Madigan's complaint against Zidan, Somerset and Dubai alleged "substantial danger to the environment, air pollution, violation of asbestos inspection, emission control and disposal procedures, and violations regarding state and local notification of asbestos removal."

Last week, a Cook County judge also backed an injunction from Madigan and the city that ordered crews to stop work on Somerset Place, ordered defendants to submit a plan for the safe removal of asbestos and levied fines for each day the violations persist.

A status hearing is scheduled for May 21.

None of those listed as defendants in the suit responded to requests for comment Wednesday.

But Dan Luna, the chief of staff for Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), who supported the developer's initial plan for Somerset, said "we take these concerns very seriously."

"The developer ... should know and does know the proper way for removal of asbestos and contaminated materials," Luna said, stressing that he did not know how long the renovation would be delayed. "At the end of the day, safety is the big concern."

Luna said the project would likely go forward if safety issues are remediated, and noted that the building has already received a zoning change.

"I don't think that's reversible, but then again, we want to wait and make sure we're all on the same page at the end of the day," Luna said.