LINCOLN PARK — The owners of a historically protected building in Lincoln Park have been fined for demolishing it last year, accused of doing nothing to save the deteriorating building in an effort to boost their profit from selling the site, city officials say.
The building, which housed a salon at 2107 N. Cleveland Ave., was demolished Sept. 20. When granting the demolition permit, city officials said the property was “imminently dangerous and hazardous” due to its crumbling foundation.
But Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), whose ward includes the Lincoln Park property, said neighbors in the historic district never got the chance to do their own assessment to determine if the building could have been shored up and rebuilt.
Additionally, Smith said, the owners essentially let the building fall apart to justify their appeal to the city for permission to tear it down.
“It was our view that these owners created the conditions that allowed their building to collapse so they could maximize their profit to sell the property,” Smith said.
The city sued property owners Stojanka Gilbert and Nevena Rothe. They reached a settlement in January, requiring Gilbert and Rothe to pay a $10,000 fine for the building’s demolition, records show.
Gilbert did not return a request for comment and Rothe could not be reached.
The agreement also includes a clause that will downzone the property from B3-2, allows for something like a shopping center or large storefront, to RS-3, which only allows for single-family homes and two-flats.
Smith contends the downzoning will cost the owners “hundreds of thousands” of dollars in potential profit because any developer they sell to will be restricted to constructing a smaller building on the site.
“Our office has made very plain that this will have to be developed as a small residential project, and that’s costing these people money,” Smith said.
The property is located in Chicago’s historic Mid-North District, a landmarked collection of brick rowhouses dating to the 1870s-1890s.
The former salon was rated “orange” in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, meaning it possessed enough architectural features to contribute to the historic nature of the Mid-North District. These landmarked buildings are usually protected from demolition, except when the city’s buildings department determines a property is dangerously unstable and needs to be torn down.
This building partially collapsed in June. The buildings department issued an order in September finding the property was imminently dangerous — before community members could conduct an inspection.
Smith’s office learned of the demolition when the staff got a call from someone interested in buying the property, who said its owner told them it was going to be demolished. This was before the building’s demolition had been approved, Smith said.
“We immediately notified the authorities, the neighbors and started on this,” Smith said. “It led to a furious fight to try to stop the demolition in any way we could … but, ultimately, the city said an incredibly dangerous condition had been created, and it had to come down.”
Smith said she urged the Law Department to take action against the owners after the building was torn down.
“This isn’t the first time that someone has tried to allow a building to fall down … but this is the first time that we actually had a loss of a building,” Smith said.
Separately in December, City Council approved an ordinance expanding the city’s Landmarks Ordinance to allow the city to intervene earlier when someone seeks to demolish a historic property.
The amendment doubles fines for violations and includes language allowing the city to penalize owners for neglecting their property so it can fall into a state of disrepair.
That change could have enabled neighbors in the historic district to stop the former salon for being torn down, or at least exhaust all alternatives, Smith said.
“We wanted to expand the ordinance so the city could intervene earlier in a dispute,” Smith said. “So when the residents first saw the evidence of undermining the foundation of this building, we could have intervened and tried to stop the building from being allowed to fall down.”
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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