WICKER PARK — It's not the prettiest structure, but a two-story, century-plus-old wood frame building covered by beige vinyl siding is worthy of protecting, according to a Wicker Park neighborhood group trying to derail a developer's plan to demolish it.
The city agreed, and a committee voted Thursday to deny developer Steve Lipe a permit to demolish the building at 1501 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Last month, Wicker Park Committee members voted unanimously to leave the building at 1501 N. Milwaukee Ave standing. Craig Norris, a Wicker Park resident and committee member, said the developer's interest in the building was simple: "It's about money and a double lot on a corner."
After the Landmark Commission's Permit Review Committee denied Lipe the permit on Thursday, he said he was disappointed, but he planned to move forward with a residential building with a ground-floor commercial tenant at 1505 N. Milwaukee Ave.
The original project had spanned two lots, including the vacant lot at 1505 N. Milwaukee, which Lipe owns.
"It will be a challenge to create a project that respects what little remains of the architectural integrity of the existing building, yet enhances the vibrancy of and livelihood of Milwaukee Avenue," he said.
Located on the northwest corner of Honore Street and Milwaukee Avenue and across from a future Rick Bayless restaurant, the building was built in 1881.
A 2007 report by the city's Department of Planning and Development lists the building as "potentially contributing" to the Milwaukee Avenue Landmark District, where buildings are categorized into designations of "contributing," "not contributing," and "potentially contributing."
In a six-page report about the building, the developer contends it does not exhibit "craftsmanship and detailing in brick, stone, terra cotta, pressed and cast metal," which are characteristics of the Historic District's buildings.
Lipe, who has a contract pending for the purchase of the building, said he has had several inquiries about the proposed commercial space, including a local seafood and specialty grocer and national apparel retailers.
The owners of the building who've operated Mena Travel, a family-owned travel agency in the storefront since 1979, declined to comment.
At a neighborhood group meeting Wednesday, Lipe told some 40 attendees, "The building is old, clearly in rough shape."
Last month, Lipe showed members of the same group two options for the development. The first option was a building spanning both lots that Our Urban Times reported was Lipe's preference. The second option was a modern building erected in the vacant lot at 1505 N. Milwaukee, located next to the landmark building.
In a letter expressing its opposition, the group argued that the loss of the building "would forever impair the integrity of the district and would set a regrettable precedent which would put dozens of other smaller-scale buildings in the district in jeopardy of demolition."
However, Lipe writes in his report that there are "limited instances in the district that warrant the demolition of a building, and this is one."
A prolific local developer, Lipe recently worked with NYC-based Jenel Management to construct three adjacent storefronts at 1480-84 N. Milwaukee Ave., which opened in 2011. He also replaced a demolished Burger King with two new restaurants, Native Foods and Covo Gyro.
Lipe is in the process of repairing a building at 2045 W. North Ave. which will soon be home to another restaurant, 5411 Empanadas.
On a walking tour of the 1500 block of North Milwaukee Avenue Wednesday evening, Wicker Park Committee member Norris acknowledged "Not every building is the Noel Building," referring to a former bank at 1601 N. Milwaukee Ave. built in 1914. The Noel is designated a landmark and now contains a Walgreens.
"Even though [1501 N. Milwaukee] is not perfect, it's got the facade and characteristics of a contributing building to this district," Norris said.