Roffel remodels apartments, plans three more
By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Sep 25, 2018
Photo by: ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photo This is the eastern of the two apartment buildings Ira Roffel purchased this year on Libertyville Road. He is sprucing them up and plans to have them ready for move-in Oct. 1.
It was love at first sight. That’s how Ira Roffel describes his decision to purchase a couple of apartments buildings on the south side of Fairfield. Roffel’s fiancée fell ill, and he had to take her to the Jefferson County Health Center. On the way, he noticed a “for sale” sign on Libertyville Road. It was for a pair of apartments. He called the owner and told him, “Take down the sign.” Roffel had made up his mind he was going to own them, sight unseen.
Now Roffel is renovating the buildings and adding more units, converting two garages into carriage apartments. He expects the renovations to be complete by Oct. 1.
These apartments were just the kind of pick-me-up Roffel needed. He had tried in vain to build on Pleasant Plain Road earlier this year. He hoped to provide affordable housing convenient for Cambridge Investment Research employees. Unfortunately, he could not convince the neighbors that the apartments would add value to their property. Rather than fight them, he dropped the idea.
“I gave them back the land,” he said. “I suffered a small financial loss, but for the harmony of the community, I thought it would be best to move elsewhere.”
“We’re renovating the apartments inside with granite countertops and plank flooring,” he said.
The apartments are characterized by open floor plans, stainless steel appliances and interior decorations. He’s installing French travertine pattern tile as an accent on the lower half of the western apartment to match the pattern on the eastern building.
“When I got the place, these were two buildings that had nothing in common except the owner. We’re creating a Tudor style in both buildings,” he said.
Before Roffel purchased it, these two apartment buildings had no name. Roffel didn’t want to lease a pair of nameless buildings, so he made one: Kensington Park Apartments, named after the royal borough of Kensington in West London. Why that? Because he is remodeling them in the Tudor architectural style. The Tudor dynasty ruled England from 1485 to 1603, but the Tudor architectural style refers specifically to prestigious buildings built between 1500 and 1560. The Tudor style attempts to imitate England’s simple and rustic medieval cottages.
“I called it Kensington Apartments because it was very dark,” Roffel said. “I couldn’t figure out how to brighten it up. How do I make it feel old and traditional?”
He drove past a house he built almost 30 years ago in Suburban Heights. He used almost the same brick in that house that he was inheriting in the apartments, but with stucco on top. It was in the Tudor style.
“That was one of my favorite styles from Long Island,” he said.
Roffel has built a number of houses over the years, on D Street, on Heatherwood Circle, and a bunch on West Gear Avenue. But he has come to take special pride in renovation. He ran a siding company for years, and his goal was make that which was old beautiful once more.
“When I first got into the window and siding business, I felt that it was a Joe Pesci-type business, because I had been building homes,” he said, meaning he didn’t find it very glamorous. “But then I realized I could make an old home look new again, make it look like a castle even. Soon, windows, siding and roofing became a love of mine.”
The apartments used to have what Roffel described as “old, stale siding.” He put up new siding and new light fixtures. He’s adding partitions to the back patios for increased privacy.
“As people move out and new people move in, we will paint the apartments, add plank flooring in the living rooms, and redo the kitchens,” he said.
Roffel is installing the latest innovation in heating and cooling in the remodeled apartments: ductless systems.
“They say that running the electricity and air conditioning in Iowa for the whole year should only cost about $500-$600,” he said. “We can’t guarantee that to our tenants because we’re not the manufacturer, but I hope to convert all the units to this more modern, more efficient air conditioning system to make them truly green.”
Contractors on the project include Brian McDonald for plumbing, Neil Bulloc for framing and finishing, Chuck Ledger for electric, and Brian Sheehan and Sebastian Sheehan for tiling and carpentry, and A&C Construction, to name a few.
“Some days, 20-30 people will be here working,” Roffel said. “I’ll be out yelling, ‘You’re almost there! Just a little to the left!’ It’s both fun and overwhelming.”
Roffel has added a number of landscaping elements such as flowers, trees and planters in the front of the apartment. These include fast-growing Australian willows, which grow 10 feet per year.“We want this to be a garden environment,” Roffel said of the front of the property.
Before and After
More apartments planned: Roffel’s first order of business upon purchasing this land was to renovate the two existing apartment buildings, but he’s not going to stop there. He plans to erect three more buildings north of the existing apartments to hold a total of 14 units. He obtained a workforce housing tax credit to build homes off Pleasant Plain Road, which he never built. He hopes he can transfer the grant to his new apartments.
“They’ll have north and East entrances and beautiful southern exposures,” he said. Roffel said those apartments will be 1,400-square-foot units with two beds and 2.5 bathrooms each. They’ll be for sale, lease, or rent-to-own. He hopes to start construction on the first building either this fall or early spring.
A shed north of the existing apartments will have to come down to make room for the new ones. The first building Roffel has planned is a Tudor-style four-plex. The second and third buildings will be built in a line going north.
A street will be built from Libertyville Road to the new apartments on the north side. It will run in between the two existing apartment buildings. Roffel has submitted the design for the road to city hall, where it awaits approval.
“What I really want is for people with moderate means to have elegant surroundings,” he said, adding that he’s nearly finished with remodeling. “This will be my final real estate project before retiring.”