ANDERSONVILLE — Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) took a forceful stand against a development that would alter — or, according to some, destroy — a 100-year-old greystone in Andersonville.
More than 150 residents presented a united front against the redevelopment at 1436 W. Berwyn Ave. at a community meeting Monday at the Swedish American Museum, 5211 N. Clark St.
But to the dismay of the alderman and attendees, Aidan Dunican, President of Aidan Development Corporation, which acquired the property, was not in attendance.
"I think it is incredibly telling to me that he is not here. As someone who has dealt with the business owners, developers and other folks, when you don’t show up and have the decency to come out and listen to the people, it tells you everything. It tells you that he’s in it for the money, and when the development is done and when the condos are sold, he’s done, and we’re stuck afterwards," Osterman said. "I’m going to do everything in my power to fight this development tooth and nail."
Dunican was scheduled to attend the meeting, but had "an emergency in Ireland," according to his attorney Tom Moore, who along with architect Jack Stoneberg presented a new plan compromising community concerns with Dunican's goals.
In May, Andersonville residents started a petition to save the home, built by architect George Pfeiffer in the early 1900s, after learning the house was slated to be demolished. Its sister house next door is known as "The Castle."
Following the uproar, the developer put the project on hold and began working on a revised plan.
The plans (below) call for an "adaptive reuse of a historic building," said Stoneberg, of Stoneberg and Gross Architects, adding that the building is not a landmark building and doesn't have the protections that accompany landmark status. The building would be preserved, but divided into six condos.
"It has a feature or features with some historic significance architecturally. Given the history of the architect, and the family of the original architect, I think there's some other historic memories that want to be kept. So our task was to try to marry some of the program of the original product," he said.
While the revised plans saves the facade of the building, another historic part of the neighborhood is still on shaky ground — a 110-year-old elm tree sitting in the neighboring yard.
The tree is "in jeopardy because the root system, being a 100-year-old tree goes through the property line that is owned by Mr. Dunican now," said Osterman. "I am still looking at all avenues, all channels to preserve the building to preserve the tree, but from the legal standpoint of the city of Chicago, that’s a challenge right now."
Kathy Kink-Flores, owner of "The Castle" next door to the proposed development, said the American elm is one of 10 percent of the population that survived Dutch elm disease, a fungus that grows in the sapwood of elms. According to a Washington Post article in 2001, the disease killed 77 million trees by 1970.
After learning about the project next door, Kink-Flores consulted several arborists who gave her a range of opinions on whether the tree could survive while the work was being done, she said.
"This isn’t an ordinary tree; it’s a survivor. And the way I feel, this is similar to a marine going through a few deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, coming home and getting hit by a drunk driver," Kink-Flores said at the meeting Monday night.
The revised plans, which would need a zoning change, didn't receive a warm reception, which could mean a long battle over the property.
Because the building lacks landmark status Dunican is free to alter or demolish it as he sees fit, Moore said. But he emphasized that Dunican was on board to come up with "a creative solution ... that would preserve — to the best of their ability — the feel, the essence of the building and the character of the neighborhood."
Lesley Ames lives about a block away from the property and has lived in the neighborhood for about 15 years. She characterized the plans as "out of scale and out of character with the neighborhood."
"When I walk around with my dog and go to different businesses, everyone knows each other by name, and it's very friendly. It's different than any other neighborhood in Chicago," she said, voicing her concerns that a new development in place of the historic home could change that.
The process of pushing back against the development has been slow moving, and the community has had a difficult time determining what can be done to restrict the developer's options. Still, Ames found relief in the alderman's support, she said.
"I feel really supported by the alderman and secure that he’s working, doing everything possible to protect the community," she said, adding she wished "someone else [would] buy it and restore it the way its initial purpose was meant to be."
[Courtesy of Stoneberg and Gross Architects]