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City 'Trying to Steal' Brothers' Edgewater Home to Build Park, They Say

By Benjamin Woodard | December 18, 2013 7:41am
 Two brothers who live in a one-story building on Ridge Avenue said the city was "trying to steal" their home to make way for a park.
Ridge Avenue Firehouse Shack
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EDGEWATER — Two brothers who have lived inside of a one-story building next door to the Ridge Avenue Firehouse for years say the city is "trying to steal" their home and tear it down for a park.

James Brabec, Jr., a retired air traffic controller who has owned the property for 21 years, said all he wants is "fair-market value" for the property, but the city filed a lawsuit in 2012 in an attempt to force a sale.

"They're trying to get it — there's no way around it," said 61-year-old Brabec. "They tried to lowball it. They're trying to steal it."

But the city, and Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), said the property was too good to leave in private hands.

The land is located at 5700 N. Ridge Ave. next door to the city-owned firehouse, which will likely be converted into the headquarters for the Chicago Filmmakers and an independent film venue next year.

Osterman and the city plan to raze the Brabecs' home and create a parklike space next door to the firehouse that could extend into Wayne Avenue, erasing an awkward intersection of three streets, said Peter Strazzabosco, spokesman for the Department of Housing and Economic Development.

He said an undisclosed amount of money had been "set aside" for the acquisition of the property, but other details of the plan, such as who might manage the park, had yet to be determined.

Dan Luna, Osterman's chief of staff, said Tuesday "The plans were an opportunity to make that corner into something unique" that could be enjoyed by all.

During public meetings about the firehouse plans, Osterman has likened the Brabecs' building to a "shack."

But the Brabec brothers say they're being forced from the community they love.

"We know everyone in the neighborhood. They seem to like us," said George Brabec, 51, who has lived in the same building as his older brother, but in a second unit, for eight years. "We really don't want to move."

He said he cherished the summer months, when neighbors would visit and barbecue with them in their backyard.

The elder Brabec said the city's first offer to buy the property was $211,000 — even though the land has an estimated value of $330,460, according to the Cook County Assessor's Office.

The city claims in its complaint, filed in 2012, that it has the right to the property "for the public purposes" set forth in a 2009 ordinance regarding the city's eminent domain powers.

Brabec said his attorney, John Foran, was negotiating with the city.

Foran did not return several messages requesting comment about the legal proceedings.

Brabec's next court date is scheduled for late January, said Roderick Drew, a spokesman for the city's Law Department.

Roderick declined to comment on negotiations, citing "ongoing litigation."