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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

Wicker Park Neighbors Try To Block Construction On Vacant Side Lot In Historic District

Chicago Landmarks staffers will review the proposal Thursday, but Ald. Brian Hopkins said he will ask for an extension.

The owner of 1512 N. Hoyne Ave. wants to build an addition on a side lot at 1514 N. Hoyne Ave.
Hannah Alani / Block Club Chicago
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WICKER PARK — Some Wicker Park residents are asking city officials to weigh their concerns about preservation and the loss of green space before reviewing a homeowner’s proposal to build an addition on a vacant side lot.

On Thursday, staffers with the Historic Preservation Division of the Department of Planning and Development — staff who advise the Commission on Chicago Landmarks — will consider an application from the owner of 1512 N. Hoyne Ave. to build a 3,000-square-foot addition on the lot at 1514 N. Hoyne Ave.

Members of the Wicker Park Committee’s Preservation and Development Committee oppose the construction. They voted unanimously Tuesday to reject it.

The current proposal would have an “adverse impact” to the streetscape, which neighbors believe is protected by the Wicker Park Landmark District. Because the property is preserved, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks must approve proposed construction.

It’s not clear what sway neighbors’ position will have on city staff and ultimately on the commission, neighborhood leader Teddy Varndell said Tuesday. Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said he would ask landmarks staff to defer the application to the April meeting. 

The owner of 1512 and 1514 N. Hoyne Ave., Cullen Davis, paid $1.65 million in August for the two lots, which include an 1884-era home at 1512 N. Hoyne Ave., Crains reported.

Davis did not respond to interview requests made by email and phone.

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Wicker Park received its landmark designation from the city in 1991. The designation specifically protects the size, scale and style of the homes on Hoyne.

Neighbor Grant Drutchas said Wicker Park’s side lots are worth saving. The owner knew he was buying in a historic district, he said, and should be required to honor the preservation requirements.

Before the meeting, Drutchas told Block Club he was worried about the city setting a precedent, given the neighborhood has multiple undeveloped side lots.

“I’d hate for that to be used as an argument to gut their side yards,” he said. “It’s really what makes Wicker Park unique. … It is an essential part of the streetscapes that make Wicker Park what it is.”

Neighbor Mark Yee has lived in Wicker Park for 35 years. He created an online fundraiser to raise money for research efforts regarding this case, and he has since hired an attorney and historical consultant.

In researching the preservation district, Yee said he found maps from 1886, 1918 and 1956 that show the parcel as a vacant lot. Additionally, the lots at 1512, 1514 and 1520 all used to be owned by the same owner, he said.

Credit: Provided

“If there was an intention to build something on that lot, they would have done it,” Yee said. “The gentleman who bought this isn’t being asked to submit to rules that have been just imposed upon him. He bought into a historical district.”

However, Yee told neighbors Wednesday he worried the side lot is buildable based on the zoning code — regardless of what potential landmark status the parcel may have.

If city leaders determine the lot is buildable, Yee said he hopes neighbors can work with the architect and Davis to build something amenable for the neighborhood.

“I really believe he has the right to build. I’m hoping that out of this will come a dialogue where the needs of the many can outweigh the needs of the few,” he said. “I’m hoping the commissioners and the staff will consider the opinions of the neighborhood residents that are currently there.”

Peter Debreceny recently sold the home and side lot to Davis. He and his family lived there since 1998, he said in an email to Block Club.

The vacant lot had historically been a garden, and Debreceny’s family maintained it as such. Davis has since removed the garden, Debreceny said.

In 2001, the family considered an addition at the rear of the home that would have spilled into the garden, but they were told by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks the addition would not have protected the street scape. Debreceny said he worked with the commission on a more sensitive addition, which ended up winning an award in 2003.

Davis’ proposal does not respect the historical nature of the home or street, Debreceny said.

“The proposal is not an addition as such, but what appears to be a second full-sized building with street front entry that could be easily separated and sold at a future date,” he said. “It makes no effort to respect the landmark nature of the property with its historically well-maintained side garden, which has provided decades of joy for neighbors and the community since the home was built in the 1880s.”

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