OP couple eyes commercial Madison spot for new home

?Plans to adapt building for work/live will require

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With most attention on Madison Street focused on 6-story mixed-use proposals riling neighbors living on quiet nearby streets, one Oak Park couple has quietly planned to make Madison their home, with a unique work/live building proposal that goes before the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) tonight.

Laura and Peter Nowicki of the 800 block of South Scoville Avenue, hope to remake the warehouse building at 838 Madison into a 2-story loft space where the couple and their four children can live, while remodeling the first floor into two commercial spaces, one of which Peter will use for work.

"Madison is not an ideal place to live," Laura Nowicki said, referring to the mostly commercial neighbors they'll have if their plans are approved. But around the corner and down Grove Avenue are single-family homes. Nowicki hopes to be able to connect with those residents to get a neighborhood feeling.

"We welcome the adaptive reuse of a building that has been vacant for a number of years," Melissa Mickelberry wrote in an e-mail to Wednesday Journal. Mickelberry lives on the 400 block of South Grove Avenue and is a member of Neighbors for Madison Renewal, a group representing neighbors' interests to developers. "The Nowickis' project is an innovative design that incorporates interesting architectural details, 'green' techniques, and a new business."

The plan needs village approval because zoning requires residential buildings to have yards, but the warehouse building covers the entire lot. Also, the Nowickis' plan doesn't meet parking requirements.

Similar variances were granted for the building's previous owner in February 2003. At that time, the village estimated taxes generated by the building would increase from $8,000 to more than $30,000.

Idea came from the space

The Nowickis' plans call for two first-floor commercial spaces, one 850-square-foot space they would lease, and one 2,400-square-foot space that Peter would use. Laura Nowicki said her husband is a trader with the Chicago Board of Trade, and because he works exclusively online and many of his co-workers also live in Oak Park, opening an office here would make sense.

The couple searched for a commercial space for awhile without the notion of living above one. It was the 838 Madison space that made them consider a work/live situation or family loft living.

They paid $650,000 for the property and will put at least a half-million more into the renovation, which would include adding a floor. The ground level, in addition to the commercial spaces, would house three commercial and two residential parking spaces.

The second-floor space would offer two bedrooms connected by a bathroom, a master bed and bath, a family room and large common area. On the third floor would be the kitchen, dining room, living room, library and terrace looking north. The residential portion of the building covers about half of the depth of the lot, while the first-floor commercial space stretches from lot line to lot line.

Going green

That's one of the variances the couple will need to move ahead with the plan. The village's zoning code requires any building with residences to have front, rear and side yards. Because they will do what's known as an "adaptive reuse," or adapt the building for another purpose (in this case, a residential condominium), the couple will argue they need relief from the zoning requirements.

The Nowickis will also ask for relief from parking requirements. The code requires them to have nine spaces, but seven are provided in the plan: five off-street spaces and two on Madison in front of the building.

The building's previous owner had an agreement with the owner of Leona's Restaurant, 848 Madison St., to lease daytime parking. However, that lot has recently been eyed for development.

The Nowickis plan to rebuild in environmentally friendly ways, including following LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, using reclaimed wood and sustainable products, installing green roofs that absorb moisture and cool the building, and geothermal heating and cooling, where air is circulated through tubes drilled deep into the ground to produce 56-degree air in summer or winter. The air feeds into a furnace in winter for further heating.

Currently atop the building rests a small cupola that once housed a large elevator. (The building was constructed as an auto repair/body shop; Offset Press purchased the building in 1977 as a storage warehouse, according to village records.) The Nowickis will keep the design consistent after adding a third floor by topping the building with a cupola-like 170-square-foot conservatory.

"We don't want [the building] to be a box," Laura Nowicki said.

Roots for a new community

Similar variances were approved in February 2003 for the property's previous owners, who also had commercial-plus-condo plans, without the addition of a third floor. They planned to carve the second floor into two condos, then later decided to make just one.

Approval of those variances expired because the owners did not begin work on the building within a year. Laura Nowicki said her plans call for building the residential space so that in the future it could be converted into two separate condos.

Mickelberry said approval of the variances should not establish a precedent for developers who might want to build lot line to lot line, or otherwise outside what's allowed by zoning.

Nowicki said Madison is "prime for development," and that she hopes her family's moving there will help turn the corridor into a unique destination-shopping district, citing the Harrison Arts District as an example.

"I think we can do that on Madison on a larger scale," Nowicki said. "I think it's an opportunity to build a new community within Oak Park."

She and her family could act as anchors. "We have roots here," she said. "We're not going anywhere."

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

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