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West Town Home Could Be Demolished After Key City Committee Overrules Alderperson

Ald. Daniel La Spata sought to block the demolition, but a City Council committee sided with the family who is trying to sell the house they've owned for more than five decades.

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) speaks at a City Council meeting where alderpeople voted on the 2022 budget, on Oct. 27, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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WEST TOWN — A family trying to sell their longtime home in a historic landmark district could get final City Council approval Wednesday to tear it down, despite objections from the alderperson.

The council’s Committee on Zoning approved the proposed demolition of the West Town two-flat at 843 N. Wolcott Ave. The Commission on Chicago Landmarks previously signed off on tearing down the home, determining that despite being in the East Village Landmark District, the home was not a “contributing” building to the historic area. 

Only Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) sided with local Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), who cited neighborhood opposition in asking the committee to vote down the demolition Tuesday. 

The residents, Nicole Ortegon and Andrew Roback, said they spent 18 months researching the home’s history. Ortegon’s grandparents bought the home and it has been in the family since 1968, she said. The home is now owned by her father and his siblings. 

The family wants to sell and said the lot has more value if the home is demolished. Ortegon and Roback said they are stepping in to help their family with the sale.

“The property has been in my family for 53 years and three generations have known it as home,” Ortega said. “My family has worked to maintain the property to the best of its abilities, however the owners now in their elderly years, are no longer able to do so physically or financially.”

A future home would have to comply with development guidelines set forth by the historic district.

The home sits between two homes that contribute to the historic district, despite being non-conforming itself.

The East Village Landmark District was created in 2006 and includes 197 buildings, mostly comprising 19th century residential housing across four non-contiguous sections bounded by Chicago Avenue, Division Street, Damen Avenue and Hermitage Avenue.

A large geographic historic district was first proposed for the area, but was scaled back to its current boundaries because of the number of non-contributing homes in the initial proposal.

The Wolcott Avenue home was sandwiched between two contributing homes in the final historic district. The landmarks commission it was not historically significant because it did not “exhibit significant historical or architectural features” was constructed with different materials than the predominate number of buildings in the district and the extensive alterations to the building could not “be easily reversed or removed.”

La Spata said a local neighbor group, East Village Association, opposed the demolition. He said the split commission vote showed it was not a “black-and-white issue,” and could inspire a “demolition epidemic” in West Town if it was allowed to move forward.

Reading a letter from the East Village Association, La Spata asked the committee to consider an expanded definition of what contributes to an historic district. 

“This modest home allows observant passer-bys to consider an alternate narrative to the one told by the ubiquitous red brick Victorians and contributes to a richer understanding of our neighborhoods history,” he said.

The committee rejected La Spata’s reasoning and sided with the landmarks panel and homeowners. It is common for City Council committees to defer to an alderperson’s position on zoning issues.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) said the committee should not allow the neighborhood group to take the home “hostage.”

The Ortegon’s have “paid their dues to that neighborhood, they are trying to make decisions based on what their families needs are, and the landmark commission has gotten out of the way and it’s time for the City Council to get out of the way as well,” Lopez said. 

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) agreed.

“It feels really awkward to me to go against the expertise of those committed to maintaining the architectural integrity of Chicago’s neighborhoods, so I feel compelled to agree with the decision made by the landmarks commission,” Cappleman said.

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