Members of River Forest’s Historical Preservation Commission are split over a developer’s proposal to demolish a historic home in the 700 block of William Street, a block the village has declared a local landmark.

Mayborn Development, which is comprised of River Forest residents Rob Sarvis and Mark Sullivan, completed their application to demolish 747 William St. on Oct. 25, after an unsuccessful first filing in September.

In their initial application, Sarvis and Sullivan said the home’s structure was unsound, making rehabilitation impossible. Mayborn purchased the historic home for $415,000 in August.

The house is rumored to be designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who helped develop the low-slung, angular Prairie School style. The block itself represents the first Prairie School planned development in the state.

At the preservation commission meeting Nov. 7, the seven-member commission appeared spilt on the way forward for the property. One member came out in favor of demolishing the home, one member remains undecided, and three are opposed. Commission member Carla Graham-White was absent from the meeting.

Commissioner Al Popowits said he feels ready to tear down 747 William St. He described developers as honorable and open to design suggestions, and said a new home built in the same architectural style as the block was in the best interest of the community.

“I can see debris. I can see neglect,” he said. “I think this building is not worth saving. I know it’s going to hurt some people’s feelings.”

Commissioner David Raino-Ogden acknowledged the house needed to be refurbished, but said he’s opposed to completely demolishing the Prairie School structure. 

“There are 10 homes on the block, many in as bad a condition or worse as this house,” he said. “And they’ve managed to refurbish them.”

Meanwhile, Commissioner Michael Pritz said he was undecided about whether or not demolition should be considered. Pritz asked if he could meet with privately Mayborn to discuss the home’s future. The commission said yes, so long as all understood his opinions did not reflect those of the commission’s.

Pritz described the group’s options as three-fold: The commission can offer Mayborn a certificate of appropriateness to pave the way for demolition, refuse to provide the certificate or offer the certificate with conditions.

If the commission received design consultation from an architect, it could approve demolition on the condition Mayborn’s new structure be designed in the same style as the block, he said.

Withholding a certificate of appropriateness would not allow the commission to block demolition of the home, but would force the developer to wait at least six months before demolition.

“Time is money,” Pritz said, urging commissioners to meet and negotiate with Mayborn.

But even if the developer agrees to rebuild the house using original plans and authentic materials, Commissioner Brian Prestes said approving demolition should be the commission’s last option.

“A reasonable member wouldn’t be complicit in allowing demolition with aesthetic compromise,” he said. 

Commission Chairman Tom Zurowski said finding a new buyer for the home would be ideal.

“Part of our challenge as a committee is to not just say, ‘There’s three options,’ it’s our duty to put our minds to the test,” he said.

Commissioners have tentatively scheduled a public hearing about the demolition for 7 p.m. on Dec. 5.The location, likely at a local school, is still undecided.

Once the time, date and location are nailed down, the commission will post a notice on the River Forest village website, place signs outside the home, publish a public notice in the newspaper and send letters to those living with 500 feet of the property.

Within 15 days following that hearing, the commission has to issue a finding either issuing the certificate or denying it. If the commission denies the certificate of appropriateness, Mayborn can still appeal to the village board.

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