OLD TOWN — A Near North Side alderman wants to change the zoning category for a historic horse stable in Old Town Triangle — a move that could effectively kill a developer’s controversial plan to construct a modern, three-story addition to the building.
Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) filed the proposal in City Council on Nov. 16 to downzone the one-story property at 1810 N. Wells St., which dates to the 1880s. Developer Howard Weiner wants to convert it into a four-story, 18-unit apartment building.
The developer’s proposal sparked backlash among Old Town residents in October. A city commission approved Weiner’s application to exclude the stable from the historically protected area, clearing a major hurdle for him to overhaul the property.
Neighbors and Smith blasted the commission and developer, saying they were given little notice of the of move and the modern addition would diminish the historical integrity of the Old Town Triangle district, which the city landmarked in 1977.
Weiner’s proposal is part of a larger retail and residential development spanning four buildings from 1810–1820 N. Wells, including the garage, a three-story building, a two-story coach house behind it and a two-story building.
Smith’s rezoning proposal, if approved by the City Council’s zoning committee, would apply to all four parcels and block Weiner’s development by placing more restrictive limits on what can be built on the land.
“It’s a good idea while we’re talking about [this lot] to attempt to downsize it to something that would permit what’s [already] there, but would likely not permit the proposed addition,” Smith said.
The stable is among a parcel of three adjacent properties owned by Marion Parry, who ran A New Leaf Studio and Garden, a flower shop next door to the stable that recently closed. Parry could not be reached for comment.
In an emailed statement, Weiner said his firm prepared more than 60 variations of his proposal for the Old Town neighbors before settling on its final design. Smith’s attempt to downzone the land “came as a surprise,” he said.
“We will be looking at all available remedies both to complete the project and protect the interest of the seller, who has served the community for over 40 years in the operation of one of the city’s most loved flower shops,” Weiner said.
Weiner has said he plans to preserve the facade of the former stable, while adding three modern floors to its rear so they’re set back but still visible from the street.
Current zoning allows for larger structures such as Weiner’s proposal, which Smith said is “out of line” and “very inconsistent” with the rest of the block, which is a mix of smaller residential buildings and some businesses.
Smith’s proposal would downsize the zoning of the lots to reduce the allowed floor area ratio and cap the maximum building height at 38 feet. The building Weiner is proposing is 46 feet tall, which is the same height as the adjacent building to the north.
“We’re trying to work things out, and I don’t have any answer on whether or not they will,” Smith said. “But we are continuing to try and talk with Howard Weiner.”
The stable was built in 1883 and designated “contributing” to the neighborhood’s Historic Landmark District status in 1984 under the National Register of Historic Places, meaning it has maintained features from the post-Great Chicago Fire era and is protected from demolition or major renovations.
But the site’s status as a contributing building was never officially recognized by the city, and the Commission on Chicago Landmarks’ Permit Review Committee voted unanimously in October that the historic designation was improperly granted because the building had been severely altered since the landmark’s intended era.
Those alterations included the demolition of the building’s second floor in 1940 and the replacement of its front facade with new bricks sometime after, said Larry Shure, a staffer for the commission.
“Because the current appearance of the building does not reflect the characteristics intended to be preserved by the district designation, it cannot be considered significant,” Shure said at the time.
Smith, who pleaded for the committee to delay its vote, said it’s the first time in Old Town’s history a property’s landmark status had been undone.
She called it “an affront to everything the Old Town Triangle Landmark District has stood for” and an “existential threat” to the neighborhood’s character.
Smith said the rezoning also is part of a larger, ongoing effort in the neighborhood to review all of its buildings and assess whether they should still be part of the historic district.
To protect other buildings from losing their landmarking status, Smith said the Commission on Landmarks agreed during a “very constructive meeting” to work with neighborhood volunteers to re-survey the neighborhood’s existing buildings and ensure they still contribute to the historic district.
“The [stable building] was a very odd situation, and we really do not want it to occur again,” Smith said. “So we’re going to look at all the buildings in Old Town, and I’m optimistic it will lead to a reaffirmation of the value of the neighborhood’s properties.”
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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