Public hearing held on plan for site of former Jefferson Park home rich in history
by BRIAN NADIG
Constructing a proposed three-story building with ground-floor residential units instead of storefronts at 4805 N. Long Ave. would make sense given the “current state of the economy and market” in the Jefferson Park business district, according to the project’s attorney.
At the June 5 meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals, attorney Sara Barnes testified that there are at least 30 vacant commercial units within a two-block radius of the development site, which is located at the northeast corner of Lawrence and Long avenues and across from the Jefferson Memorial Park, 4822 N. Long Ave. For decades the business district has been marked by a high number of empty storefronts and gravel parking lots.
The property’s B3-2 zoning requires the zoning board to issue a special use permit to allow residential units below the second floor of a building in a business district.
The site’s previous occupant, a 106-year-old home that was demolished last year despite objections from Preservation Chicago and the Northwest Chicago Historical Society, was considered a legally nonconforming use under the property’s business-designated zoning.
On two different occasions doctors lived in the site’s former home, and both had their offices in the front of the house. In more recent years the house, which had a Lawrence address, was used only for residential purposes.
The proposal also requires a reduction in the amount of required window space on the first-floor façade, from 183.6 to 144 square feet, due to the district’s “pedestrian street” zoning designation. The designation is intended to make the business corridor more pedestrian friendly and to encourage the opening of stores and restaurants.
Barnes said that the reduction would offer more privacy to the first-floor tenants of the nine-unit building. She added that many of the area’s existing storefronts do not meet the pedestrian requirements, which were put in place about 5 years ago.
Plans call for call for the on-site parking to be accessed from a side alley and for the lot to include more than 1,600 square feet of open space. In addition, Barnes said, the units would be “family-sized,” with two bathrooms.
The zoning board will its release its decision next week, but it is expected to approve the project. The proposed building would not be as large as a four-story, retail-residential structure which a developer could build on the site without any zoning relief, Barnes said.
Also at the hearing, Barnes said that the former home on the 9,500-square-foot parcel was in a “state of disrepair” due to “recent neglect”and that its demolition took place “to keep the public safe.”
Perseveration groups had expressed concern about plans to demolish the house, citing its historical and architectural significance.
Historical society president Susanna Ernst issued the following statement:
“The demolition of a historic building for ‘public safety’ is a common narrative used by developers, as it they feel it provides justification and it is difficult to disprove. However, this historic brick home was well set back from the sidewalk and was recently occupied, so it’s a challenge to understand what eminent danger it presented to local residents.
“Many of the razed historic buildings in Jefferson Park (including the orange-rated commercial terra cotta building on Lipps and Lawrence) were torn down due to issues of ‘public safety.’ This was also part of the rationale for destruction of the Chicago Stock Exchange and the Garrick Theater, both national treasures.
“This home played a significant role in local history. The first mass for Saint Constance was held here, and it was a hub for early Polish activity. Later, it was the home of Olaf Ray, a Norwegian academic and scholar, who was an influential Chicago politician and a national statesman. We aren’t clear what hazard this home presented, but its destruction was a tragic loss for Jefferson Park.”