CITY HALL — A proposed development in a landmark district of Wicker Park won't be moving forward — for now — after some members of Chicago's landmarks commission heard arguments for and passionate pleas against the plan in City Hall Thursday afternoon.
The question is whether an empty lot — or a side yard, depending on who you ask — next to a 1890s-era greystone in the 2100 block of West LeMoyne Street is available for home development or deserves protection as an open green space.
After hearing statements from the developer as well as those who vehemently oppose the proposition, including Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) and a neighborhood group, the permit review committee of the city's landmarks commission opted not to approve LeMoyne Acquisitions' plan, voting 2-2.
Due to the tie vote, it's "essentially a no decision," said Pete Strazzabosco, a spokesman for the city's Department of Buildings. The project hasn't been killed, but it's a change from the permit review committee's earlier decision to recommend that the project move forward with conditions.
The proposal from applicant Todd Mullen of LeMoyne Acquisitions and architect John Hanna includes building a 2-½ story home on 2117 W. LeMoyne St., the most contentious part, as well as the less controversial idea of converting a multi-family home next door at 2119 W. LeMoyne to a single-family home. More details of the plan can be viewed online here.
“These are in fact two separate lots," Mark Kupiec, the attorney representing LeMoyne Acquistions, said to the committee before the vote.
The properties do have separate tax identification numbers in the Cook County Assessor's Office records, and Kupiec has argued it's fair game to develop upon both lots. Currently, 2117 W. LeMoyne St. is classified as a "residential garage" in assessor's records, while the neighboring property is classified as a multi-unit apartment.
One of the Wicker Park Committee's central arguments for why the empty space deserves protection is a wall on the east side of the greystone facing the yard, which the neighborhood group argued is comprised of "face brick construction with ornate masonry," and meant to be a visible feature.
"No builder spends money on facades that they don’t expect to be seen," Wicker Park Committee member Dina Petrakis said at City Hall. "...It did not get built to be hidden. Period."
Members of the Wicker Park Committee's preservation and development committee voted unanimously against the project in January.
Another argument heard from Waguespack, who said he thinks the lot deserves protection as a "landscape feature," was that residents can be hard pressed to find empty areas in certain parts of Wicker Park.
“Within these streets there’s very little open space," Waguespack said before the vote. "And I think that's part of the reason why the community looks to these type of properties, these side lots, as very important to the overall character of the neighborhood.”
Before voting "no" on the plan, landmarks commissioner and former 48th Ward alderman Mary Ann Smith drew on the memory of her childhood home off Milwaukee Avenue.
"There were rows of two flats, the old-fashioned Chicago two flats, with an empty lot between each one," Smith said. "And it was paradise — paradise living there because trees had room to grow and children had room to grow."
Smith said she believed that 2117-19 W. LeMoyne St was intended to be a single lot with a side yard.
The next step is for LeMoyne Acquisitions, which owns both the greystone at 2119 W. LeMoyne and the empty property at 2117 W. LeMoyne St., to represent to landmark staff at a later date.
Kupiec said he and his clients plan to "digest" what was said at the meeting.
"Then we'll plan that next course of action," he said.
Petrakis said she's "ecstatic" with the vote, even if it's a temporary stay on the project.
"It’s a heck of a lot better than them going ahead with it," she said, though she admitted, "I don’t know what’s coming next."