Bitter feud between Preservationists and Homeowner in Edgewater

On Tuesday, the Sun Times profiled a homeowner who is suing the local Historical Society over lost income from their interference with a sale of her property to a local developer.

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6018 N. Kenmore is a large Victorian on an oversized lot near Loyola University.  The neighborhood has evolved into an area with more condominium development, rather than the stately elegant mansion that this home once was.  Renovation costs would probably have run into the hundreds-of-thousands. 

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When the owner put the home up for sale, the most lucrative offer was from a developer who wanted to demolish the house and build new construction condominiums.

The Edgewater Historical Society intervened, maintaining that the house on North Kenmore was unique in the neighborhood and was listed on the city landmark map as “orange-rated” – eligible for city landmark status.  Reportedly, they pushed Alderman Mary Ann Smith to oppose demolishing the house and delay zoning changes “if the developer does not drop his plans for demolition.”

After some long delays in the approval process for the condominium development, the developer cancelled his contract to buy the property.

Property owner Brigitta Riedel says she lost out on more than $1 million when the sale went south and is suing to the historical society and four of its board members, accusing them of carrying off a "calculated, sophisticated attack" to kill the sale.

The board members say the suit could hurt community activism — and, if they’re ordered to pay damages, perhaps cost them their own homes.

"It could happen, and it certainly impacts how you plan the rest of your life," said LeRoy Blommaert, who’s being sued along with fellow historical society board members Elizabeth Mayian, Thom Greene and Kathy Gemperle. "You worry what that life would be like if you had to sell your condo or give up a number of your assets."

In the “Letters to the Editor” section of the paper today, a reader from Edgewater commented:

Owners continue to feel that they can do anything they like with their property, at whatever cost to the community.  While many houses or older apartments may not be architectural masterpieces, the community and the city have a clear interest in maintaining properties on a block at similar scale or of a certain historical quality.

So often, we see rampant development obliterating neighborhoods and disrupting social patterns, all for the sake of profit.  That Riedel, who made $550,000 on the property, should think of suing members of a small nonprofit board for the remaining $600,000 that she “lost” is outrageous.

Developers serve profit, not public good.  For this reason, we need citizens, organizations and politicians to help balance the equation so that the public good is also served.

Are you kidding me?

  • How many times do I have to say this?  Hey – Preservationists!  If you want to save a piece of property, BUY IT!  When you impose your standards on someone else forcing them to lose value because they can’t sell or have to preserve an antiquated property, you are stealing from them.
  • Just because a property looks beautiful, doesn’t mean it’s not a piece of junk.  Sure, it’s gorgeous.  But who wants to live in it?  The house has small bedrooms, no closet space, no air conditioning, a kitchen far removed from the living space,   Great if you want to re-create a Victorian diorama, but pretty awful if you’re a modern family that wants a nice place to live.

Can I answer the letter-writing response line-by-line?

Owners continue to feel that they can do anything they want with their property…”  HELLO?!  Where do we live?  This is a capitalist society, last time I checked.  The whole IDEA of owning property is so that you can do whatever you want with it!

…the community and the city have a clear interest in maintaining properties on a block at  similar scale…”  Buddy, they already do.  It’s called ZONING.  There are laws in place to maintain the character of a neighborhood.  This is why you don’t see truck loading facilities next door to schools.  But building new condo’s where old houses used to stand is perfectly reasonable.  And your notion of “Community” really reads to me like a bunch of meddling neighbors.

“So often, we see rampant development obliterating…”  Obliterating?  That’s what we’re going to call an entrepreneur who is willing to take a risk on the market, shell out over a million dollars on acquisition and construction, and then wait to sell a product that there is no guarantee will sell? 

What about these “rampant developments”: 

  • Sandburg Village that bridged the gap between the Gold Coast and Cabrini Green to the west; thereby making Old Town a viable neighborhood where people actually want to live.
  • Dearborn Park in the near south loop that practically created a new desirable neighborhood from scratch in a desolate wasteland of railroad yards and abandoned printing factories.
  • And more recently the development along the Chicago River encompassing the old Montgomery Ward headquarters and warehouses. 

“Developers serve profit…”  Just because developers are in it for the money, doesn’t make it BAD.  In fact, it’s the America Way.  I would suggest that allowing community groups to hold properties hostage and begging local government to take over property that is rightfully owned by private citizens is the start of the slippery slope to “Socialism.” 

And as far as the neighborhood is concerned, here is a street view of the properties directly south and north of the house in question.  Oh yes, condominiums would really be out of place on this block…

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I wish Ms. Riedel all the best in her efforts to recoup her losses.  And I hope that the lawsuit causes other “Community” groups to pause before meddling with the rights of property owners.

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6 Responses to “Bitter feud between Preservationists and Homeowner in Edgewater”

  • Rick:

    It IS zoning.

    You said right in your piece that the developer wanted zoning changes and pulled out when he didn’t get them quickly enough. EHS just shows up to meetings and maybe writes the alderman and advocates a position, it doesn’t control zoning or anything else. Should attending meetings or writing letters to a your representative be illegal? Is that the American Way?

  • Hi Rick, thanks for posting.

    In the Sun Time article, the developer is quoted as saying that his contract contained a provision that let him out of his contract if the city denied him a permit to block the alley. The efforts of the Edgewater Historical Society caused the Alderman to delay approval of the project, which caused the developer to lose his construction loan.

    The developer did not seek a zoning change.

    In fact, the zoning at the time, R5, and the current zoning RM-5.5, would allow for the construction of a multi-unit apartment or condominium. In fact, the house in question is nestled in between a long block filled with apartment and condominium buildings.

    It is only due to the interference by members of the Edgewater Historical Society that caused the Alderman to delay the project approval based on the EHS’s assertions that the house be given Landmark Status.

    I guess one man’s “attending meetings” or “writing letters” is another man’s meddling in other people’s business.

  • It does seem unfair that any group can prevent a homeowner from making changes to their own home. I second the motion “Preservationists! If you want to save a piece of property, BUY IT!”

  • The Dude:

    The main question here is what you folks deem appropriate? And you guys always answer the question be saying “buy them yourself.” You guys are careless when it come to this issue. You want to tear down everything with historical value to please your greed. For you, it’s more about how much I get out of a property instead of looking at the how much this property means to the neightborhood’s history and identity.

    Instead you guys should be advicates, like EHS and other historical centers. Would it be great if we can hold on to our history and pass it down to our next generation. We should be all involved in that. And it’s sad when folks like you throw ever road block up and make excuses for you twisted view of preservation and history. It has nothing to do captialism or property rights. I has to do with greed. I would rather you guys say “I don’t like preservation and I don’t care about saving old properties.” Instead you dance around the issue and say “well, I like preservation went it’s appropriate.” And then you say, “buy it yourself.”

  • Hi Dude, thanks for stopping by!

    It’s not that I want to “tear everything down”, but I am a strong advocate for property owners being able to decide for themselves – within limits of zoning and ordinances.

    My perspective is that since the whole city burned to the ground in 1879, our history really isn’t that “historic.” And most of our old buildings are just that – old. And Chicago has always been a city of re-birth and re-growth. So it has always stuck me as unfair when neighborhood groups try to interfere with a property owner’s decision when it’s time for “out with the old & in with the new.”

    I hope you’ll keep reading!

  • The Dude:

    I agree with you to some degree interms of the general themes from Chicago’s history. But those where ideal and not physical concrete approaches. We must not forget our history and some of that comes in the form of our structures. Would you support the Cubs if the built a new stadium? That would be in same argument of “out with the old and in with the new.” Right? But nobody in this city would want that to happen because they have some personal connection to that silly old structure.

    Why can’t they just take the house or something like it, update the interior, and sell it? Or if they don’t have the funds to update it they can always find a buyer who can do the updating themselves. This is a real market for this. I mean there are alot insentive and interested folks in doing something like that. Why not market that approach instead of tearing it down and building eye sores (like the coroful building near the red line)? It’s not like the Edgewater neighborhood doesn’t have enough condos or apartments. In the same breath, the neighborhood is not filled with abandoned old structures like other parts of town.

    Your one picture with all the apartments next to house, supports my argument. I agree with re-birth and re-growth, but at one point does that have to sacrifice our historical treasures.

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