THREATENED: Francis Parker School Consolidates Control Over Historic Belden Courtyard Buildings

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“Francis W. Parker School has been accused of attempting a “hostile” neighborhood takeover while trying to expand its campus — but representatives said Wednesday they have no immediate plans to buy more property.

“In a community meeting, representatives from Parker, the 6-acre private school at 330 W. Webster Ave., presented plans to expand the campus by converting a newly-bought 19-unit condo building just north of the school at 317–325 W. Belden Ave. into classrooms. Chip von Weise, who presented blueprints for the planned expansion, said the school will maintain the condo building’s facade to preserve the neighborhood’s ‘feel and character,’ while renovating the inside for classrooms and administrative space.

“Weise said the building’s courtyard will be converted into an atrium, and a bridge will be built at the south end of the second and third floors to connect the building to the main school. A bridge would be constructed on the second and third floors of the school to connect the new building with Francis Parker School’s existing campus.

“Stacy Scapino, who lives in the nearby Shakespeare Building, criticized Parker’s property purchases and said the school hasn’t demonstrated a need to expand beyond its 6-acre campus. Scapino is part of the East Lincoln Park Neighbors Group, which advocates for maintaining the residential composition in the area and has described Parker’s property purchases as predatory. Scapino said Parker’s acquisition of the 317–325 W. Belden building is just the latest in a years long effort to acquire more neighborhood land.

“Homeowners at Belden by the Park, a nearby condo building at 327–335 W. Belden, filed a lawsuit against Parker in May accusing the school of covertly buying units in their building to take control and force a bulk sale. Parker’s attorney declined to comment on the lawsuit during Wednesday’s hearing, but Frank said the school will not sell the six units it has acquired in the Belden by the Park building.

“The city is currently considering a proposal for a landmark district that would include the condo building Parker just bought. Regardless of the outcome, Parker has committed to maintaining the building’s facade, but Smith assured neighbors the expansion would not happen until after the landmarking status is determined. ‘Nothing is happening until we get some kind of conclusion about this landmarking because that is a really critical factor to me,’ Smith said.” (Wittich, 9/18/20)

The methods used by Francis W. Parker School to acquire additional properties and denials so alarmed local residents that a lawsuit was filed to force this process out into the open. A robust public process is essential for any community to have a voice in shaping future development within their neighborhood, especially when dealing with a well funded private entity. The surprising decision of Francis W. Parker School to preserve the building’s historic façade and to agree to landmark designation is likely the direct result of the intense public opposition to the project. Adopting a preservation-sensitive approach is likely their attempt to weaken objections to their proposed expansion plans. While we welcome the move towards a preservation-sensitive approach, the ultimate decision about use should be made within the community.

Preserving historic facades is important for maintaining historic streetwalls and neighborhood character. Part of Preservation Chicago’s long-term strategy has been to amplify media attention to applaud preservation-oriented adaptive reuse and to discourage complete demolition. Well-reported high profile preservation efforts serve as a cautionary tale to encourage developers to more seriously consider a preservation-oriented approach from the outset. Shifting a preservation-orientation from the exception to the rule will result in many more vernacular buildings across the city will be saved and allow preservation advocacy to become more proactive and less reactive.

Preservation Chicago has been leading an effort with neighbors, the community, and 43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith to create a Chicago Landmark District which would include buildings along Belden, Commonwealth Avenue, and Lincoln Park West for several years and hoping this will come to fruition soon.

Read the full story at Block Club Chicago

Francis Parker School Says It Won’t Buy More Neighborhood Property — For Now; Representatives from the private school said they have no immediate plans to buy more property, but they will hold onto their units in another condo building for “long-term planning.”, Jake Wittich, Block Club Chicago, 9/18/20

Lincoln Park private school Francis W. Parker moving ahead with controversial plan to expand 6-acre campus, Ryan Ori, Chicago Tribune, 8/24/20

Homeowners Accuse Lincoln Park Private School Of ‘Hostile Takeover’ Through Campus Expansion Plans; Francis W. Parker School is buying up units in a condo building to take control of the condo’s board, neighbors say. The school has “shattered our dreams of staying in our dream house,” a neighbor said, Jake Wittich, Block Club Chicago, 8/26/20

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