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Bishop St. Owner: I Tried To Sell Land to Critics of 'McMansion' Plan

By Chloe Riley | September 27, 2013 10:24am
 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 — After feuding for months with his new neighbors on historic Bishop Street in Little Italy, a man planning to build a controversial home tried to sell it to critics of his plan.

But the offer went nowhere, and Kevin Skarbek demolished the row home instead last week — triggering a lawsuit by several of his neighbors.

On Thursday, Skarbek confirmed he recently attempted to sell his property at 829 S. Bishop St. due to the mounting pushback he’s received from those neighbors. He also said he offered to alter his plans, but couldn't get enough assurances from the city that a new plan would win approval.

“I have been painted the monster in this situation, but I’m following the rules and laws that are given to me,” Skarbek said. “I just want this whole thing to go away.”

In December, Skarbek paid $307,500 for the house. He submitted renovation plans to the city that called for a two-story addition as well as a new third floor and rooftop deck. The plan also called for the new home to jut 12 feet into the front yard, according to city officials.

The plans led to an uproar on the cul-de-sac street, which features a string of uninterrupted front yards up and down the block, and neighbors called the home a "McMansion." But the plan was approved by the city because the zoning allowed it.

But on Sept. 12, in a meeting with 28th Ward Ald. Jason Ervin and city officials called to resolved the dispute, Skarbek said he inquired into rezoning the entire street to prevent plans like his and even offered to alter the permit on his own house to avoid having to build forward into his yard. But he said he couldn't get a guarantee from the city that a new permit would be approved.

City officials could not immediately confirm the request to alter the permit early Friday. However, Ervin spokesman Ty Cratic said the alderman would not consider rezoning the entire street unless it was a collective request from multiple Bishop Street residents. The idea of restricting development on the street, however, has been discussed for years.

Skarbek's offer to sell the property also came on Sept. 12, and was discussed publicly at a University Village Association board meeting Tuesday. At the meeting, Oscar D’Angelo — the association’s founder who co-authored a letter to the city urging Skarbek's plans be denied — said after Skarbek offered to sell it, he and others offered to buy the property for $415,000. But D'Angelo said Skarbek countered, asking for $500,000.

Skarbek wouldn't confirm his asking price, but the negotiations fizzled.

So Skarbek went through with his plans, including a full demolition of the home last week.

That led to the lawsuit, which claimed Skarbek’s demolition caused damage to his neighbors’ basements due to flooding from intense rainstorms last week. The suit also claims Skarbek’s public description of work done on the property didn’t match the actual demolition work completed.

While Skarbek had the proper permit for the work done on his property, the description of his plans said he only planned a "selective demolition" — which Department of Buildings spokesman Bill McCaffrey said was inaccurate.

When pressed why the description didn’t match the work, Skarbek said it was a technicality, as the two common walls between his neighbors’ row houses and his were not demolished.

“We’re sharing the same walls so it’s selective demolition,” Skarbek said. “I’m not illegally doing anything.” 

At Tuesday’s University Village Association meeting, Jonathan Myers, a  board member and Bishop Street resident, defended Skarbek, his brother-in-law, saying the issue had been blown out of proportion.

However, Myers admitted he was not a fan of Skarbek’s plans for the site.

“I’m not in favor of what his architect drew,” Myers said. “I was shocked frankly.”

Contacted after the meeting, Myers declined to comment further.

Skarbek said he now has no interest in selling the house and is forging ahead with his original plans for building a single family home on the site.