In 2017, the beautifully ornamented limestone historic greystone at 1436 W. Berwyn Avenue in East Andersonville was threatened by demolition. A developer had purchased the double lot with plans to replace the building and garden with a six-flat. The lot site was particularly attractive to the developer because the underlying RT-4 zoning allowed for a higher density and more FAR (floor-area-ratio) than the existing building. Because the developer was planning to build “as-of-right”, or within the permitted zoning allowance, he would be able to proceed over the objections of the alderman and neighborhood.
Despite the highly challenging path to preservation surrounding 1436 W. Berwyn Avenue, widespread opposition to the demolition and a sustained preservation effort resulted in a preservation victory and the home has been saved. The developer agreed to sell the property, at a significant profit, to a new preservation-sensitive buyer who is deconverting the two-flat to a single family home and is restoring its historic features. Additionally, the landscaped side yard, green space, and mature American elm tree will be preserved.
Preservation Chicago is thrilled that the preservation efforts resulted in a great win for the building, the Andersonville and Edgewater communities, and Chicago. The neighborhood preservation coalition of owners, community partners, 48th Ward Harry Alderman Osterman, and Preservation Chicago created the circumstances which allowed a preservation-oriented outcome to emerge. However, this extraordinary effort is neither sustainable nor realistic for the hundreds of homes and buildings within this neighborhood. So far in 2018, four historic homes in the neighborhood have been demolished for new construction.
Unlike other historic neighborhoods whose historic fabric has been permanently impacted by frequent and widespread demolition, Andersonville and Edgewater are largely intact. So steps were urgently needed to empower the community and alderman regarding planning and development matters.
Fortunately, immediate steps have been taken by Alderman Osterman who introduced an ordinance at the September 20, 2018 Chicago City Council meeting to downzone an eight-square-block area known as East Andersonville as a way to protect historic two-flats and houses by reducing the zoning imbalance between what exists and what current zoning allows. Additionally, downzoning in this area from RT-4 to RS-3 will make it consistent with zoning in all adjacent neighborhoods. Proposed boundaries are from Foster to Gregory, the alley east of Clark Street to both sides of Glenwood, Bryn Mawr to Foster.
The difference between the size of many of the existing historic homes and the underlying higher density zoning, which allows for bigger buildings and more units, creates a constant structural challenge. Developers and brokers actively seek out properties with a large zoning differential and then seek to monetize the difference through demolition and new construction. In these circumstances, developers are consistently willing to out-spend prospective home-owners. The full value to the developer is in the land and zoning, so other than the demolition cost, the building itself becomes irrelevant, no matter how beautiful, historic or significant it may be.
The downzoning ordinance will better harmonize the underlying zoning to the existing historic buildings. This will reduce the profitability for as-of-right development and make this neighborhood less attractive for “slash and burn” development. Better harmonized zoning will make the neighborhood more stable and “level the playing field” for prospective homeowners who wish to renovate historic homes and live in the neighborhood.
Preservation Chicago strongly applauds Alderman Osterman for his leadership, his process, and his efforts around this issue. It is far simpler for elected officials to avoid, delay or postpone addressing complicated neighborhood matters. Alderman Osterman and his office have consistently demonstrated strong leadership, listened to a wide range of voices within his ward, considered a variety of possible solutions to address the challenge, and took a stand to actualize the desires of the community.
Preservation Chicago also wishes to recognize the tireless efforts of Kathy Klink-Flores of the Lakewood Balmoral Residents Council, Julie Wlach, Leslie Ames of the East Andersonville Residents Council, LeRoy Blommaert of the Edgewater Historical Society, Maureen Murnane of the Lakewood Balmoral Residents Council, and the many other community members and community organizations who helped to make this preservation effort a success.