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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

HGTV Renovation Is ‘Ruining’ Our Backyard Views, Ukrainian Village Neighbors Say

The size of the addition was approved by the city's Landmark Commission, but neighbors say it's ruining the block's character.

Miriam and Tony Ruiz want a developer for HGTV's "Windy City Rehab" to reconsider the size of an addition being built on a cottage next door to their home.
Alisa Hauser/Block Club Chicago
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UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — Neighbors on a block dotted with century-old worker cottages want a developer with HGTV’s “Windy City Rehab” to reduce the size of an addition on a home that will be featured on the forthcoming reality show.

“It’s ruining the character of the block,” said Miriam Ruiz while standing in her backyard on Sunday with her husband Tony Ruiz.

The Ruiz family has lived in their current home for 22 years. Last week they started a petition to try to convince a developer who bought the neighboring home at 2123 W. Thomas St. to reduce the size of an under-construction back addition from 20 feet long to 9 feet.

Credit: Alisa Hauser/Block Club Chicago
The addition at 2123 W. Thomas St. will extend the home’s kitchen and a bedroom above it.

“We the neighbors and residents of the landmark district in Ukrainian Village oppose your plans to build an addition that will extend well beyond the porch line that now forms the backyard landscape of these historic cottages. This addition is done without regard to the original intent of a Chicago backyard and residents that currently reside in the landmark district,” the petition says.

As of Monday, the petition had 28 signatures, including from Brian Pendrak, who lives on the other side of the under construction home.

The size of the addition is within the scope of what’s legally allowed. Members of the city’s Landmark Commission approved the permit for the addition in May, city records show.

No other addition on the block, including one currently underway two doors west of the home, goes back as far as the addition.

The Ruiz and Pendrak families will lose some of their backyard views as a result of the addition. The petition alleges that the neighbors’ quality of life will be impacted by the build out of the rear addition and that the adjacent properties will see a reduction in property value.

Credit: Provided
The Ruiz family drew a diagram to show how far back the addition will go as it obstructs the eastern view from their backyard.

The vintage home’s full gut rehab and remodeling will be featured in a “Windy City Rehab” episode when the show premieres in January. Host Alison Victoria previously called the show “Windy City Flip” and its first season focused on rehabbing an old Bucktown home.

Victoria, a Chicago-area native who splits time between the city and Las Vegas, buys and restores old homes in Chicago and features the journey on her reality show. In “Windy City Rehab,” Victoria will buy “some of Chicago’s oldest homes and turn them into dream properties that enhance neighborhoods,” according to the Tribune. 

The petition asks Greymark Development Group and Victoria to reduce the length of the planned addition by more than half.

On Monday, Greymark owner T. Donovan Eckhardt said there are no plans to change the length of the addition.

“Everything was permitted appropriately, the way it was supposed to be. We are passionate about restoring this building and I am sensitive to the neighbors’ needs. I had a meeting with them last week and offered to help them with adding design landscaping for their side of the property. I am positive when it’s done it will fit in well and will be a fine addition,” Eckhardt said.

Credit: Greymark Development Group
A 3D model of the planned addition.

In the meeting, Eckhardt offered to put up a nicer fence between the properties and plant new trees that will serve as a buffer between the properties.

Miriam and Tony Ruiz confirmed they and other neighbors met with Eckhardt last week at the office of Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) but said they were not satisfied with the offer of landscaping and a new fence.

“I didn’t feel good about the meeting because I know he’s rushing this job and just wants to get it done. He’s not vested in the community and just wants to finish this job so he can move on to his next investment,” Miriam Ruiz said. 

Hopkins’ chief of staff Christian Ficara did not return a request for comment, nor did a spokeswoman for HGTV. 

The addition, which will incorporate Chicago common brick, will serve as an extension of the kitchen and a bedroom above the kitchen, Eckhardt said.

Eckhardt said that he and Victoria discovered the home when they were in the process of trying to buy another cottage on the same block. After that sale fell through because the buyer decided to stay in their home, they were introduced by a friend to the owner of the cottage at 2123 W. Thomas St.

“We didn’t negotiate; we bought it for the asking price,” Eckhardt said of the off-market transaction.

Eckhardt said a stone fireplace, three clawfoot bathtubs, stained glass art and vintage wall sconces were taken out of the home and will all be restored.

“We want to take those historic elements from the homes [featured on “Windy City Rehab”] and put them back in the finished product,” Eckhardt said.

Tony and Miriam Ruiz say they’re not impressed by the preservation efforts they’ve seen so far, which included witnessing original wood moldings get tossed in a Dumpster and coming home to find a hydrangea bush torn out from the parkway in front of the home, a bush that Ruiz said she would have wanted to have the opportunity to save and replant. 

“They are going to sell it, flip it and they’re gone,” Tony Ruiz said, while Miriam Ruiz added, “We have to stay here, we want to retire here. These homes aren’t that big, they’re enough to raise a family in…  The only thing we are asking is that he consider the size of the buildout.”

Pendrak said he’s been disappointed with what he described as “a lack of clarity on what’s going on until it’s actually happening” and said as a neighboring home owner, he was not aware of the scope of the addition and how far back it would go until the work began.

The home is hoping to be completed by the end of October and will not be listed for sale until then, Eckhardt said.

Credit: Screenshot/City of Chicago Department of Buildings
The building permit history for 2123 W. Thomas St.

City records show that Greymark Development applied for the permit to build the 20-foot-long by 18-foot-wide 3-story addition in April and received approval from the city on May 22, after the plan was reviewed by the Landmark and zoning committees.

City zoning code for the lot dictates that the rear setback must be no more than 50 feet or 30 percent of the lot depth. The lot is 125 feet deep, so the home needs to be setback no less than 37 feet from the end of the back lot line. Eckhardt said it’s within the legally allowed parameters.

Credit: Alisa Hauser/Block Club Chicago
The back of the home at 2123 W. Thomas St.

Miriam Ruiz has lived in Ukrainian Village since 1967 and has worked as a special education teacher for CPS for 31 years. She plans to retire within the next few years and join her recently retired husband Tony Ruiz, whom until 2016 was the deputy director of safety and security for CPS.

The home, at 2123 W. Thomas St., was bought on January 2 for $650,000 by ALOVAN, LLC, an entity headed by Eckhardt, founder of Greymark Development Group and Alison V. Gramenos, county and state records show. Professionally Gramenos goes by her first and middle name Alison Victoria.

Credit: Alisa Hauser/Block Club Chicago
The home at 2123 W. Thomas St.
Credit: Alisa Hauser/Block Club Chicago
The view of the under construction addition from the Pendrsk family’s yard directly to the east.