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Uptown Victorian House Zoning Vote Delayed Again

By Adeshina Emmanuel | December 19, 2013 8:41am
  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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UPTOWN — Developers with controversial plans to replace a Victorian house at 4642 N. Magnolia Ave. with an apartment building were dealt a pair of possible setbacks this week.

Residents in Sheridan Park, a historic landmark district in Uptown, have pushed in recent years to "down zone" properties, particularly single-family homes, to preserve the architectural and historic character of the area.

The idea is to create a disincentive for developers looking to demolish old homes and replace them with higher density residencies.

On Monday — ahead of a City Council committee vote on a zoning request that would allow Mike and Liz Finan to replace a single-family home in Sheridan Park with a six-flat apartment building — neighbors in the Magnolia Malden block club took an 11th hour advisory vote at the Uptown office of Ald. James Cappleman (46th) that was meant to guide Cappleman's stance on the request.

Residents voted 19-0 against the zoning request. The vote followed a split vote the week before, after which neighbors rallied to gain more opposition against the Finans' plans.

On Tuesday, Cappleman asked the City Council's Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards delay a vote scheduled about the zoning request until Jan. 23.

Cappleman's office wrote in a statement Wednesday that the alderman "didn't have an opportunity to speak to the Finans or their attorney prior to the zoning committee meeting." The deferral, said the statement, was to ensure that the Finans can speak directly with Cappleman "so he could explain the decision and position of the community."

Cappleman's office said that the Monday block club vote "will be respected," and that the alderman will uphold neighbors' wishes.

The Finans' critics argue for the restoration of the Victorian home, which was built in 1896 and has sat gutted for nearly 20 years after a fire ravaged it. The Finans, Uptown residents who have restored numerous old buildings and own O'Shaughnessy's Public House in Ravenswood, say demolishing it and replacing it with high-end rental units would be a wiser investment considering the cost of restoration, and market conditions.

They also argue that an occupied property in Uptown is better than a vacant one.

Their deal with the current owners of the house to buy it for $525,000 is contingent on the issuance of a demolition permit, which could be granted as early as Dec. 30.

Cappleman also delayed a November vote on the zoning request to allow the city more time to decide if it would landmark the house and prohibit its destruction. Citing conversations with the city, Cappleman recently told neighbors the city probably won't step in to save the building.

The Finans' attorney Thomas Pikarski said Thursday his clients will "continue facilitating discussion," with "all interested parties."

But soon, "there will not be any more time to wait on this and the home will be demolished," Pikarski said, adding that his clients are "looking for somebody to step up for the property within the next two weeks."

Pikarski said the Finans demolishing the house and "leaving it as a vacant lot," is "certainly," on the table. The couple has said they would consider leaving the property empty until market conditions make developing the land under the current single-family home zoning more favorable to their bottom line.

Residents hoping for the Victorian's survival, according to the attorney, can either find somebody to buy the Finans' contract for the property, or find somebody willing to buy the house itself and move it to another location.

"The only person willing to purchase this in order to rehab the house would be somebody looking to do it as a labor of love, knowing that they will lose money on the building even if they were to rehab and sell it 20-30 years down the line," he said.

For previous coverage of Sheridan Park's endangered Victorian home, click here.