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Lincoln Park, Old Town

Controversial Plan To Turn Historical Old Town Stable Into Stores And Apartments Clears Key City Panel

Neighbors have opposed the project because it took landmark status away from the old building.

A rendering shows the compromise plan that developers reached with Ald. Michele Smith's office for their addition to the former horse stable at 1810 N. Wells St.
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OLD TOWN — A plan to change the zoning of a former horse stable and its neighboring buildings in the Old Town Triangle to limit what developers can build there was approved by a key city panel on Tuesday.

The rezoning ordinance approved by the city’s Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards applies to four buildings from 1810–1820 N. Wells St. It would change what could be built there from a neighborhood shopping district to a mix of stores and apartments.

“This is a rezoning that is the outcome of a series of negotiations with Landmarks, the Department of Planning and a developer who had a pretty rocky experience — as our community did — in a project in Old Town,” said Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), whose ward includes the properties.

Developer Howard Weiner revealed his plans last fall to convert the properties into a multi-building, retail and residential development that includes the former garage at 1810-12 N. Wells St. The project also includes a three-story building at 1816-18 N. Wells; a two-story building at 1820 N. Wells; and a two-story coach house on the rear of 1816-18 N. Wells.

Neighbors strongly opposed the project last fall because it would take landmark status away from the former horse stable, which was designated as “contributing” to the neighborhood’s Historic Landmark District status in 1984. That means it has maintained features from the post-Great Chicago Fire period and is protected from demolition or additions like the one in Weiner’s proposal.

Despite the opposition, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks’ Permit Review Committee voted unanimously last fall that the former stable’s historic designation was incorrect because the building had been severely altered since the landmark’s intended era. The building once had a second floor that was demolished in 1940, and the front facade was later replaced with new bricks.

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The garage building at 1810 N. Wells St. housed Ono Brothers Automotive from 1973 to 2000.

Neighbors were outraged by the “unprecedented” decision and argued the building’s historical de-designation posed a serious threat to Old Town’s historic integrity.

“This was a traumatic experience for me and our community,” Smith said Tuesday. “As a result of that, I initiated this downzoning as many aldermen would in an effort to try and fix the situation as best as we could.”

Smith said the latest compromise, which includes a smaller addition to the garage at 1810 N. Wells St. and that the development use brick and window openings consistent with the rest of Wells Street, is supported by the Old Town Triangle and “many members of the community.”

“It significantly downsizes and changes the look of the addition that’s going to be built to the building, preserves all the remaining buildings on site and preserves retail on the ground floor,” Smith said.

But a handful of neighbors, including Susan Boggie and Diane Gonzales, who both spoke at the committee’s meeting, still opposed the project and Smith’s proposal.

Boggie argued that several neighbors near the development’s site did not receive notice that the matter was to go before the Zoning Committee. Additionally, she said, the rezoning ordinance should only apply to the former stable — and not the rest of the buildings included in the developer’s plans.

“1810 N. Wells was declassified [as a landmark] over the objections of the neighborhood and should therefore seemingly be the only building affected by the zoning change,” Boggie said. “There’s no obvious reasons for 1816-1820 N. Wells to be changed except for possibly developers’ greed.”

Gonzalez echoed Boggie’s concerns, and asked for a month’s delay to discuss the issue with Smith and the developer.

In a letter to Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who chairs the Zoning Committee, Boggie and several other neighbors asked for a delay on the vote. They also asked that the garage at 1810 N. Wells St. be reinstated to the Old Town Triangle Landmark District’s contributing list and that the Inspector General’s Office investigate the garage’s decommissioning in the first place.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) was the only alderman on the committee to vote against the ordinance, which moves next to City Council for final approval.

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Developers said they presented dozens of iterations of their proposal over several meetings with the Old Town neighborhood.

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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