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Lincoln Park, Old Town

Controversial Plan To Convert Historical Old Town Stable Into Stores And Apartments Approved By City Council

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said the plan was the result of a compromise with developers that included smaller addition to the historic garage. But some neighbors argued the plan should never have been approved in the first place.

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 — City Council approved a plan to change the zoning of a former horse stable and its neighboring buildings in Old Town so that developers can build a multi-building retail and residential project.

The rezoning ordinance approved by City Council applies to four buildings from 1810–1820 N. Wells St., changing 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,” Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), whose ward includes the properties, said during the city’s Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards meeting Tuesday.

Developer Howard Weiner revealed his plans last fall to convert the properties into a mix of retail and residential buildings that include the former garage at 1810-12 N. Wells St. Other buildings in the property include 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 the 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.

However, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks’ Permit Review Committee voted unanimously last fall that the former stable’s historic designation was incorrect because it had been seriously 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 and said the buildings historical de-designation posed a serious threat to the historic integrity of Old Town.

“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, who wrote a letter to Zoning Committee Chair and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), still opposed the project and Smith’s proposal.

They asked that the garage at 1810 N. Wells St. be reinstated to the Old Town Triangle’s contributing landmarks list and that the Inspector General’s Office investigate how the garage was decommissioned in the first place.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) was the only alderman on the Zoning Committee to vote against the ordinance Tuesday before it was eventually approved by City Council Friday.

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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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