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Uptown in the News  

September 14, 2005
Condos could replace historic homes in Uptown
Neighbors,l preservationists, fight to save structures
By (Angela Caputo)

It's a battle being waged block by block, house by house throughout the city, preservationists say. And since the talk of historic demolition recently made it way to the doorsteps of some Uptown neighbors, they too say they are ready to put up a fight to stop it.

Developers are seeking zoning changes in the enclave of Sheridan Park to replace two historic homes with larger-scale condo developments.

A Victorian-style home at 4627 N. Beacon, which is coded orange- the second highest rating on the city's list of historic places, is among the two properties being eyed for redevelopment. Although the home built in 1892 is one of the oldest in the neighborhood, it doesn't have the landmark status needed to fend off demolition.

Another developer is also seeking a zoning change around the corner where an historic two-flat sits at 4722 N. Malden on a generous lot, which is characteristic of the neighborhood. A six unit condo project is being proposed for that site.

Like many of the stately homes in Sheridan Park that are on the Nation Register for their historic significance, both properties were downzoned from R-4 to R-3 in 2000 in a neighbor-initiated effort to preserve the scale and integrity of the community. Or so they thought.

Developer Chris Byrne bought the Beacon property under the understanding that it retained its R-4 status based on city maps where the downzoning was never changed.

Byrne paid more than $1 million for the property in May 2005, according to county records-well over the value of the home because of the promise to build big on the lot, he says.

Now he's asking neighbors to help him from losing his shirt in the deal that he says was based on a bureaucratic mix-up. In order to come out ahead financially, he needs a zoning change from R3 to R4 to build an eight-unit condo building with a brick and limestone facade..

The longtime owner of the Malden property is also blaming an administrative snafu in the down zoning process. When he recently went to sell to a team of developers, he found that he hadn't received a stay on the R-4 zoning that he says he petitioned for.

Despite their pleas for understanding, neighbors airing on the side of preservation told the property owners "tough luck" at a standing room only community forum Alderman Helen Shiller, D-46th, hosted Thursday, Sept. 8.

The meeting was scheduled to gauge public opinion on the proposed zoning changes. After the forum the fate of both requests remains up in the air.

In an attempt at resolution that everyone could live with, Shiller asked the owner of the Malden property, who has yet to put his two-flat on the open market, to try and sell under the current R-3 zoning. If after six weeks there are no bites, she said, the issue would come back before the community. "I think in the best option the building should be sold and retained, the alderman said.

As for the Beacon home, it's up to the developer to either garner support on the block or come up with a new plan, according to an aldermanic aide. As alderman, Shilller will have the final say. She's waiting, however, to get the pulse of neighbors living nearest to the property before making the call.

Preservationists say they are dismayed that the zoning changes are even being considered.

"There's an old saying in construction... measure twice, cut once," said Jonathan Fine of the non-profit group Preservation Chicago, who joined neighbors in saying that they shouldn't be punished for others' mistakes.

"Zoning should not be based on what's good for a developer. It should be based on the health of a community," he added.

Pointing to other glaring examples, Fine said, there is cause for concern that a couple of changes now would open the floodgates for zoning changes in the future. Stretches of Lincoln Park are virtually unrecognizable from a couple decades ago. There needs to be a comprehensive plan for Sheridan Park to avoid a similar fate, he said. A ground swell of support for retaining the historic Beacon Street house resulted in the recent collection of more than 300 signatures to save the home that neighbors say is a landmark in the community marked by curvy streets and wide yards.

Despite the support, the home could easily join the list of a dozen others among the 330 downzoned properties that have already been torn down and replace, according to John Holden, president of both the Uptown Historical Society and the Dover Street Block Club.

Under the current zoning, Byrne could replace the home with two single-family houses or a smaller-scale condo building.

Some see a sad irony that just as the neighborhood is celebrating its 20th anniversary of making the Nation Register of Historic places, the number of historic homes left to commemorate is dwindling.

But that hasn't dampened the enthusiasm of residents like Holden who said, "A historic neighborhood like ours is worth fighting for, worth preserving."

So, they say, they'll fight on.

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