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Church-to-Apartment Conversion Fails to Win Neighbors' Blessing

By Patty Wetli | December 18, 2013 4:10pm | Updated on December 18, 2013 5:29pm
 Developer proposes turning church into apartments.
Mixed Blessing
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IRVING PARK — Centers of Light, a non-denominational mystical Christian Church, promises to "promote peace in the community."

The proposed sale and redevelopment of the church's building at 4053 N. Monticello Ave. is producing anything but.

A plan to carve up the 24,000-square-foot structure into 30 apartment units was unveiled Tuesday night at a forum hastily arranged by Ald. John Arena (45th) and the West Walker Civic Association. The developer, Elk Grove Village-based Sonco Real Estate, is requesting a zoning change from RS3 (single family home, 30-foot maximum height) to RM5 (multi-unit, 47-foot maximum height).

Sonco, owned by brothers Jack, Steve and Gary Korol, has yet to place a bid on the property — asking price, $1.1 million — but is aiming to make an offer by Thursday after obtaining community input.

"I apologize for this being a fire drill, this is not how my system works," said Arena, as he introduced himself to many of his West Walker constituents for the first time, having inherited the neighborhood in the recent ward remap.

Warren Silver, the attorney representing Sonco, explained that the opportunity had "come up quickly" and his client had requested the meeting "to take the temperature of the community, so we could determine whether what my client thinks makes sense is what the community wants."

The answer from the dozen residents in attendance was a unanimous "no."

Rental units would "not be well-received" by neighbors, said Davor Engel, vice president of the West Walker Civic Association.

"This is a single-family-home neighborhood," Engel said, questioning whether Sonco had considered another use, such as townhomes, which would be "more simpatico with the neighborhood."

The size of the proposed apartments — 700 to 800 square feet — "might imply more of a transient nature," he said. "It's not quite SRO, but it's not far from it."

Existing rental properties have already over-saturated the area and their tenants have little investment in the neighborhood, according to Christian Caperton, whose home is in sight of the church.

"Renters don't contribute to community groups," which have been instrumental in combating crime in the area, said Caperton. "I'll do everything I can to keep another rental unit property from coming into that place."

Whether apartments or condos, the development's proposed 30 units was an absolute no-go with residents, who said parking was already at a premium in the area and the density was out of character with the rest of the neighborhood.

"Shaving the number of units in half would have to be the starting point," Mike Webber, president of the civic association, told Silver.

While neighbors and the alderman were appreciative of Sonco's plan to adapt the existing church structure as opposed to a tear down, many questioned whether a residential development was the only available option.

"I thought it might make a great community center," said Scott Compton, whose home is diagonal from the church.

Chris Novak, a 20-year resident on Monticello said, "Ideally, for me, it would stay a church."

He noted that the building has only been on the market since November — given more time, perhaps another congregation would step forward.

The realtors handling the property, Church Building Consultants, did not respond to a request for comment.

"I've had churches that have been sitting on the market since I came into office," said Arena, who was elected in 2011.

In recapping the community's feedback, Arena stated the "one overall positive" was the adaptive re-use of the building. But given the complaints about the number of units, rental vs. ownership, lack of parking and the building's height, he told Silver, "This, as proposed, is not acceptable."

Silver said he would take the input back to Sonco and return with a more detailed proposal.

"If we go ahead, it will be with an eye toward what I heard tonight," he promised.

The existing plan wasn't written in stone: "I would even go so far to say it's not written in Jell-O," Silver said.

Arena assured residents they would be included in any future discussions related to the property. Additional public meetings would be scheduled as part of the zoning change request process if Sonco continued to pursue the project in a revised form.

"Nobody builds something in the 45th Ward that isn't agreed to," Arena said.