LINCOLN PARK — Neighbors near Francis W. Parker School say they’re being pushed out of the neighborhood by the prestigious private school’s controversial plans to expand its campus.
Representatives from Parker, 330 W. Webster Ave., said in a letter to neighbors Monday they are moving forward with plans to buy two condo buildings and convert them into school facilities.
The private school will soon close on its purchase of the first condo at 317–325 W. Belden Ave., which was approved by all of the building’s homeowners earlier this summer, according to the letter.
But residents of Belden at the Park, 325–335 W. Belden Ave, rejected the school’s offer to buy their entire 15-unit building. Since then, the school has bought individual units in the building, according to the Chicago Tribune, which first reported the story in 2019. That prompted a lawsuit in May that accuses the school of attempting a “hostile takeover” of the building.
Attorney Jamal Edwards, who is representing the Belden by the Park homeowners, alleges the private school used straw purchasers to buy two units in the building in an attempt to “take control of the board and force owners out.”
“Francis Parker claims to be a good neighbor, but it has been anything but neighborly to homeowners at Belden by the Park,” Edwards said. “Instead of being transparent and working with owners to gain 100 percent buy-in for its plans, it engaged in a covert and hostile takeover of family homes, in its own words, ‘under cover of night.'”
Residents will have a chance to weigh in on the school’s development plans during a community hearing 6 p.m. Sept. 16 hosted by Ald. Michele Smith (43rd).
Daniel Morales, a board member of the Belden by the Park condo association, said the private school’s plans have “shattered our dreams of staying in our dream house.”
Morales moved into the building in 2018 with his wife and two kids, 5 and 7 years old, so they could go to Lincoln Elementary School.
He said they renovated the unit into their dream home with amenities making it more child- and family-friendly. But under Parker’s previous offer to buy the entire building, they would have lost about $300,000 on the investment.
“It’s very hard to find reasonably priced homes in Lincoln Park where you can send your kids to this great neighborhood public school,” Morales said. “We put our heart and soul into this place, and it’s been an ongoing nightmare trying to defend ourselves against [Parker’s] tactics.”
Jerry Savoy and his husband also moved into the building two years ago so their kids could go to Lincoln Elementary. He echoed Morales in saying there is no other housing in their price range within the school’s boundaries.
“I bought my unit with the intention of being able to be a part of a community that I cared about and take advantage of excellent Chicago public schools. But what Parker is basically telling is that we’re a pawn in their game,” Savoy said.
Both neighbors want the private school to sell the units it’s already bought so the homeowners can control the building’s future.
A school spokesman declined to comment.
According to the letter sent to neighbors, Parker will begin converting the first building for school use while preserving its facade to maintain the residential feel on Belden’s streetscape. The process could take up to 10 years to complete.
“At that point, should Parker own Belden by the Park in its entirety, the school would consider undertaking a renovation of that building for school use,” the letter states. “Until then, if any Belden by the Park unit owners wish to sell, Parker will negotiate with them in good faith.”
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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