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Bishop Street 'McMansion' Feud Spills Into Court After Row House Demolished

By Chloe Riley | September 24, 2013 7:52am
 Property owner Kevin Skarbek recently demolished his home at 829 S. Bishop St. Now neighbors have filed a lawsuit claiming the demo work was not allowed by his building permit.
Bishop Street House
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LITTLE ITALY — Neighbors fighting the building of what they call a "McMansion" on a historic street in Little Italy have ratcheted up the fight, claiming in a lawsuit that the construction is illegal and has damaged their homes. 

Residents on Bishop Street initially were feuding with new property owner Kevin Skarbek over his plans to build out into his front yard, which neighbors said would change the character of a street that features a string of uninterrupted front lawns up and down the block.

But in a lawsuit filed late last week, neighbors claim Skarbek violated the terms of his city building permit by completely tearing down his attached row house at 829 S. Bishop St. and leaving only a few wooden boards to stabilize the units on either side.

The suit — filed by neighbors who live in those units immediately to the north and south of Skarbek's property, Carrie Fitzpatrick and Antonio Corral — claims crews have "carried out the complete demolition of the entire home, even razing the foundation and excavating below the foundation."

The suit says the homes, after heavy rains on Sept. 18, "suffered significant damage, including severe flooding."

Furthermore, the demolition dangerously exposed interior walls, which could cause future damage, they claimed.

"This is likewise an especially serious and continuing problem, inasmuch as these walls consist of 100-plus year old bricks and mortar that were never before exposed to the elements prior to the unlawful and unexpected demolition activity of the defendants," the suit said.

"It’s kind of an ugly situation," said Fitzpatrick, who lives next door to Skarbek. "Likely what’s going to happen is we’re going to pay the damage and move on."

Skarbek said he couldn’t comment on his neighbors’ claims or the lawsuit.

But his attorneys — who include former Mayor Richard Daley’s brother Michael and Mara Georges, the city’s former corporation counsel — said their client was within his legal rights.

Skarbek "denies that any demolition or other work was outside the scope of plans approved by the City of Chicago and permits issued by the City of Chicago and denies any illegal activity or improper conduct," Georges said in a statement.

In court documents, he denied the demolition had damaged his neighbors' homes and noted that other homes flooded during the recent storms.

He called the lawsuit's attempt to block construction "ridiculous." But later in the court documents, Skarbek "admits" his neighbors' walls are currently exposed, adding that he'd like to "remedy this situation" by moving ahead with construction. 

On Friday, Judge LeRoy Martin sided with Skarbek and declined to issue a temporary restraining order halting the construction, saying "at this stage of the proceedings Plaintiffs cannot establish an irreparable future harm." He ruled that Skarbek could continue work on the house, including laying a new foundation.

The lawsuit, though, will go still forward; the next hearing is set for 9:30 a.m. Oct. 15.

In addition, city officials said late last week they were looking into whether Skarbek violated the conditions of his building permit. In applying for the permit, Skarbek said he planned "selective demolition, alterations and additions to an existing single-family home. ... Work includes new electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems, new windows, garage and exterior and interior materials and finishes."

The description doesn't indicate Skarbek planned a full teardown, although the permit he was granted did allow it, Department of Buildings spokesman Bill McCaffrey said. 

"The building at 829 S. Bishop is being demolished and rebuilt according to approved plans, and work can continue," McCaffrey said in a statement. "Since the scope of work exceeds the description, but matches the drawings, the Department of Buildings is determining the appropriate enforcement action."