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Will 116-Foot-Tall Old Town Building Clash With Area's Historic Structures?

By Mina Bloom | August 12, 2015 6:15am
 Howard Weiner of Chicago Development Corp. is building a 116½-foot-tall development on the site of Elly's Pancake House next to the landmark Village Theater.
Howard Weiner of Chicago Development Corp. is building a 116½-foot-tall development on the site of Elly's Pancake House next to the landmark Village Theater.
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DNAinfo/Mina Bloom; Courtesy/Howard Weiner

OLD TOWN — Plans to build a 116½-foot-tall development on the site of Elly's Pancake House next to the landmark Village Theater are moving forward roughly 2½ years after they were first introduced, with the developer aiming to begin construction sometime between January and March. 

That's unwelcome news for some neighbors who believe the building at 101 W. North Ave. will not only clash with the area's historic structures, but will also ruin the entrance to North Avenue beach. 

"Why should there be a towering building, when you could put a building in that is harmonious with what is already there?" said Margaret Denk, a neighbor who has lived in the nearby James House building for 15 years. 

She's referring to The Latin School, The Chicago History Museum and Moody Bible Church — all buildings at the intersection of North Avenue and Clark Street that are all about 80 feet tall.

Those complaints are nothing new, but the sense of urgency is growing. In the coming months, the veteran developer behind the project, Howard Weiner of Chicago Development Corp., is bringing revised plans — it was originally proposed as nine stories — to the city's planning department for approval. 

Depending on the scope of the changes, they may need approval from other agencies as well. But if all goes according to plan, construction could begin any time between January and March, Weiner said.

Weiner has already gotten over some hurdles, including winning zoning approval — the current zoning designation only allows for 80-foot-tall buildings — as well full approval from the City Council in April. 

But neighbors hope to make their voices heard before it's too late. Another longtime neighbor, Dorsey Ruley, said the development could "make or break the neighborhood." 

Ruley said Weiner originally wanted to build an 80-foot-tall building, then upped it to 105 feet and now he's asking for 116½ feet.

"I was so shocked when he said that he needed 11½ more feet. That was unbelievable," he said. "It's going to be so big, it's going to overhang over the entire neighborhood."

Weiner said he is asking for a height increase to protect the Village Theater and the Germania Theater, both are landmarked and are more than 100 years old. He said he originally planned to build a two-level basement but became concerned that those buildings would be damaged from such a deep excavation.

That was also the reason for adding a floor of parking on the second level, which will increase the height of the bays along North Avenue and Clark Street, he said.

Weiner said the building would be the "smallest, lowest multi-family residential building for three or four blocks."

In response to neighbor concerns, he said he and his team have paid a "great deal" of attention to traffic and density concerns, which is why they've scaled it down from 120 units to 33 residential units, averaging 3,000 square feet of space.

"We listened to the community on every aspect. They wanted something that fit in. They didn't want modern," he said, adding that the the building will be made with classic brick and limestone materials. Weiner plans to renovate the facade of Elly's Pancake House, formerly known as Germania Theater. The facade of the next door Village Theater will stay intact, though.

But Weiner and his team would not compromise on the height.

Some residents have expressed fears that the tall building will obstruct their view of the lake and the cityscape. One neighbor wrote on Facebook page NO! To North & Clark Development: "The first 5 stories or so would benefit the neighborhood, but anything beyond that will only benefit the developer and restrict our views that have been in place for 40 years."

To that, Weiner said: "If views were protected, there would only be one building in the city because every other building would've affected the views." 

Ald. Brian Hopkins, whose 2nd Ward includes the development, couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

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