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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

Plan To Build 19 Apartments In Historic St. Paul’s Church Too Dense, Wicker Park Group Says

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) would need to approve a zoning change to bring the number of apartments from eight to 19, but Wicker Park Committee members have concerns.

Architect Jean Dufresne, of SPACE, explains his process of retrofitting vacant churches into apartments during an Thursday meeting at the 1st Ward office.
Hannah Alani/Block Club Chicago
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WICKER PARK — A proposal to carve iconic St. Paul’s Church in Wicker Park into 19 apartments was unveiled Thursday, but members of a neighborhood group told the developer the project is too dense for the area.

JAB Real Estate and SPACE Architects presented renderings to members of the Wicker Park Committee on Thursday at the 1st Ward office, 1958 N. Milwaukee Ave. The presentation included floor plans and descriptions of how the team, if allowed a zoning change, would actually retrofit the 1890s limestone and brick Romanesque church at 2215 W. North Ave.

Before architect Jean Dufresne could get into the nitty gritty of the presentation, neighborhood leaders immediately took issue with how many apartments were planned, as well as proposed renovations to the large pieces of stained glass at the front of the church.

The property is currently zoned for eight units, and neighbors asked the developer to reduce the 19 apartments they seek to build out in the church.

Credit: SPACE Architects and Planners/Provided
Interior views of a renovated Wicker Park church, 1336 N. Damen Ave. This designer hopes to renovate St. Paul’s Church, too.

Teddy Varndell, a member of the Wicker Park Committee, told developer Frank Campise he wanted to see eight units in the church instead of 19.

“I would rather have consistent zoning down that strip. I would rather see you develop as of right,” Varndell said. “I would like to see you do eight units … and preserve the front to the letter of the law.”

Campise said it is not financially possible to construct eight units as allowed by current zoning code.Renovating and retrofitting the church’s 20,000 square feet will cost about $150 a foot, he said.

“It costs money,” he said. “Eight units, at $150 a foot, it won’t work.”

“It’s a vacant, decaying building,” he added. “You’d rather it fall down?”

Credit: Hannah Alani/Block Club Chicago
Teddy Varndell, a leader of the Wicker Park Committee, asks developer Frank Campise about the decision to design 19 units inside St. Paul’s Church.

For Elaine Coorens, Wicker Park Committee member and the founder of local news site OurUrbanTimes, preserving the façade of the building with its century-old stained glass was the biggest issue.

“It’s iconic,” she said.

The church features a steeple visible for several blocks, as well as arched stained glass windows and ornate Victorian moldings.  

Dufresne said it’s important to replace some pieces of the glass with clear blocks, so that tenants can have more natural light in their apartments.

The idea is to “repair and replace,” not tear down and start from scratch, Dufresne said. He added that he used the technique during another church-apartments conversion in Logan Square.

RELATED: Carving Church Into 28 Apartments ‘Too Big An Ask,’ Wicker Park Group Says

Credit: DNAinfo/Provided
St. Paul’s Church, 2215 W. North Ave., has been vacant since 2011.

RELATED: Historic Logan Square Church Now A Luxury Housing Complex, With Apartments Renting For Up To $4,000

Without natural light, Campise said, the units won’t be marketable.

Coorens asked whether designs could be altered in a way that would decrease the number of North Avenue-facing units, therefore decreasing the amount of necessary work to the stained glass.

Campise and Dufresne agreed to consider the idea and said they will follow up with new designs.

They also agreed to prepare a presentation on the glass replacement technique. 

“It’s their community,” Campise said after the meeting.

Credit: Hannah Alani/Block Club Chicago
Teddy Varndell, a leader of the Wicker Park Committee, asks developer Frank Campise about the decision to design 19 units inside St. Paul’s Church.

The church, part of Wicker Park’s Landmark District, is listed on the Chicago Historic Resources Survey and was designed by G. Isaacson.

The church has been vacant since 2011, when the church was home to the Near NorthWest Arts Council (NNWAC), which operated the Wicker Park Cultural Center in partnership with 12 other arts and community organization using the space, Our Urban Times reported.

In 2017, Michael Schwartz and Scott Schiller, principals of SNS Realty Group, pitched 28 units inside the church, but neighborhood leaders rejected the project, DNAinfo reported.

Credit: SPACE Architects and Planners/Provided
An Aug. 22 floor plan for the third floor of St. Paul’s Church. In total, the developer hopes to build 19 units inside the currently vacant church.

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