OLD TOWN — In a bitter dispute that pits an Old Town family seeking accessibility for their daughter who uses a wheelchair against their preservation-minded neighbors, a neighborhood group is now suing the family and the city board that ruled the family could add a garage to their historic home.
The Deakin family aims to build a two-car attached garage at their home, built in 1891, in the 1800 block of Lincoln Avenue — a garage they say will accommodate the needs of their daughter Ava Deakin, who uses a wheelchair. But the Old Town Triangle Association has opposed the move, saying a street-level garage could damage the historical integrity of the areaand would violate the district’s rules.
After the dispute was heard by the Zoning Board of Appeals in December, the Deakins were ultimately granted the zoning change they desired, much to the dismay of Old Town Triangle Association members.
Now, the association is suing the zoning board and the Deakins, alleging the Deakin’s attorney, Nick Ftikas, engaged in behind-the scenes-lobbying in order to “obtain support from City officials and others” without registering as a lobbyist with the Chicago Board of Ethics.
Ftikas could not immediately be reached for comment.
The complaint also alleges the Deakins did “not act in good faith” throughout the process, stating that they only consulted with the Old Town Triangle Association after a stop work order was issued by the city. They relied on emotional appeals to sway the board, the suit states.
The city issued the stop work order after it was determined the city’s Department of Buildings had mistakenly and preemptively issued the Deakins a permit before the zoning change had been granted.
Reached Thursday, the Deakins said they were “completely blindsided” by the lawsuit. They first learned of the complaint Thursday and were unaware the Old Town Triangle Association was planning to file the suit.
“We are taken aback by the persistence of our neighbors and their willingness to continue to discriminate against a person with disabilities,” Bill Deakin said. “I think it’s a very sad day for our family and a very sad day for the treatment of people with disabilities by the Old Town Triangle Association.”
Deakin said his family has tried diligently to work with neighbors.
“Our approach was to be as patient and careful as it required. We tried to give the neighborhood every opportunity to consider our request.”
Old Town Triangle Association members have maintained that the zoning dispute is not about discrimination, it’s about their fight to preserve the historic charm of the neighborhood. Members believe the Deakins shouldn’t have bought a home in the Old Town Triangle if they were not ready to uphold the strict requirements that come with living in a historic district.
It’s a slippery slope, the association’s spokesman Mike Fourcher said — if exceptions are made for one owner, other homeowners will follow suit and eventually the historic character of the neighborhood will erode.
“Old Town has been a landmarked neighborhood since 1977,” Old Town Triangle Association President Karen Pfendler in a written statement. “Since then, every resident has been required to forgo additions and improvements that are out of character with the district. Neighbors have chosen to live here with the understanding that the exterior of historic properties — and empty open spaces — are to remain as is. With one stroke, the Zoning Board of Appeals decision has made moot the existing residents’ commitment to the district.”
Under the family’s plan, the street-level garage for the Lincoln Avenue home would face out to North Lincoln Park West, a street lined with homes and buildings. The garage would be set back 10 feet from the street and would reuse an existing 14-foot curb cut on the property, according to Ftikas.
Back in December, Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said she was unable to facilitate a compromise between the two groups. On Thursday, she again invited both groups to go through her office in order to reach an agreement.
“We tried very hard to broker a compromise in this case and our door is always open to try to bring the parties together,” Smith said.
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