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Developers Say Uptown Victorian House is Doomed Unless a Buyer Steps In

By Adeshina Emmanuel | December 16, 2013 11:04am | Updated on December 16, 2013 4:36pm
  The five-bedroom house still contains a hand-carved wood staircase, stained-glass windows and two fire places on the interior   —   but is largely gutted and in need of restoration.
The Victorian at 4642 N. Magnolia Ave.
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UPDATE: The Magnolia Malden Block Club sent a message to members Monday afternoon saying that the block club would hold a final advisory vote at 8 p.m. Monday at Ald. James Cappleman's ward office, 4544 N. Broadway, where members can again vote for or against a zoning request that Mike and Liz Finan seek in order to replace a Victorian home in Uptown with an apartment building.

UPTOWN — Developers with plans to buy an old Victorian home in Uptown and replace it with an apartment building are challenging residents who want to preserve the home to put their money where their mouth is.

Mike Finan and Liz Finan, Uptown residents who own O'Shaughnessy's Public House in Ravenswood, have a deal with the current owner of the home at 4642 N. Magnolia Ave. to buy it for $525,000, contingent on the city granting them a demolition permit.

"The house is getting knocked down unless somebody wants it," Mike Finan told Uptown residents at a community meeting last week.

The five-bedroom house, built in 1896 with hand-carved wood staircases, stained-glass windows and fireplaces — is in need of restoration due to a fire that ravaged it about 20 years ago.

The Victorian resides in Sheridan Park, a part of Uptown that was named a historic district in 1985 and is "filled with a dazzling array of unique single-family houses and smaller apartment buildings," according to Preservation Chicago. Sheridan park is bounded by Montrose on the south, Lawrence on the north, Clark on the west and Broadway on the east.

Critics of the Finans argue that the Victorian should be restored because of the historic and architectural character it brings to Sheridan Park. The Finans counter that demolishing it and replacing it with high-end rental units would be a wiser investment considering the cost of restoration and market conditions. 

The house is defined by the city as an "orange" rated property, meaning it has "potentially significant" architectural features or historic associations that triggered a 90-day delay when the Finans applied for the demolition permit in October.

That delay expires on Dec. 30.

The office of Ald. James Cappleman (46th), citing conversations with the Chicago Commission on Landmarks, said the city probably won't step in to save the building from the wrecking ball.

If the Finans get the demolition permit, they said they will wait six months for a prospective buyer  to buy the house from them for at least $525,000 and move it from the lot.

Residents who voted on whether to rezone the land for the Finans were divided down the middle at a recent meeting. The advisory vote was taken to give the community a say in the matter, although it's Cappleman's choice if he will support the zoning change or not.

His office said in an email over the weekend that the alderman "hasn't made any decision yet."

Mike Finan said selling an expensive single family home in the current market, in a "high-crime area," like Uptown would be difficult — and that if he doesn't get his zoning request, he might still knock the house down and leave it a vacant lot "until the economy gets better," and makes developing something within the existing zoning profitable.

John Holden, former president of the Uptown Historical Society — and Martin Tangora, the 46th Ward Zoning and Development Committee's historic structures expert — argue that Sheridan Park residents have pushed in recent years to "down zone," properties, particularly single-family homes.

The strategy is aimed at creating a disincentive for developers looking to demolish old homes and erect higher density residencies in the neighborhood, according to opponents of the Finans' zoning request.

The City Council's zoning committee will review the zoning request Tuesday morning.