River Forest Historic Preservation Commission on Dec. 5 postponed a decision on whether to force a developer to delay demolition of a building on a block designated a local landmark.
The commission met in the auditorium of Lincoln School for a public hearing on the fate of the home at 747 William St., which is part of a one block, Prairie-style planned development, completed between 1913 and 1916 and reportedly designed by architects Harry Robinson and William Drummond, who worked for Frank Lloyd Wright.
However, after almost two hours, commissioners felt they needed more time before voting on whether to issue the developers, Robert Sarvis and Mark Sullivan of Mayborn Development, a certificate of appropriateness, which would allow demolition of the home.
There are 24 Prairie-style homes on the block, which was the first and possibly the only surviving Prairie School planned-development in the country.
The hearing will resume on Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. at the River Forest Village Hall, 400 Park Ave.
Mayborn Development purchased 747 William St. for $415,000 on Aug. 16. A month later, the developers filed an applications for a certificate of appropriateness, seeking approval to demolish the home, but the application wasn’t determined to be complete until Oct. 25.
A public meeting on Nov. 5 ended with commissioners appearing split on whether or not to issue the certificate. A village ordinance calls for the Historic Preservation Commission to hold a public hearing within 60 days of the receipt of a complete application.
During the Dec. 5 public hearing, Sarvis and Sullivan reiterated their view that the home was is disrepair and that demolishing the structure was the only practical outcome. But several members of the public disagreed, saying they believed rehabilitation of the existing home could be profitable, preserve an historic block and create community goodwill.
Others opposed the certificate of appropriateness to destroy the home, arguing that allowing the home to be demolished would set a precedent for teardowns that could in time result in the destruction of the landmark planned development.
“Rob, you have the ability to stop this demolition, and we’re asking for you to do a service for the community,” Ron Heiman, a resident of the block, told Sarvis.
A newer resident of the block, John McDonnell, countered Sarvis’ claim that home buyers today want modern construction.
“My wife and I just moved onto the block, and one of the things that attracted us to it was the cohesion of the block, and we want to see that continue,” McDonnell said.
Commissioners remained divided on whether or not the narrow application of the guidelines in the village’s code leaves any hope for saving the house. While most acknowledged the value of the block as a whole, some, including Al Popowits and Michael Pritz argued that demolition was inevitable under the current guidelines.
Others, like Chairman Tom Zurowski, commissioners Carla Graham-White and David Raino-Ogden held out hope for a solution that would save the house.
Existing historic preservation guidelines provide no recourse other than a six-month delay in issuing a certificate of appropriateness, a roadblock that some commissioners and many residents in attendance struggled with.
River Forest resident and Oak Park River Forest Historical Society President Jan Dressel, speaking in her personal capacity, stated, “The Oak Park [historic preservation] group has teeth. You don’t have teeth. You don’t have power. Your group has to have power. That’s the solution, and it doesn’t cost any money. You need enough people in town to care.”
In advocating for denying the certificate of appropriateness, Zurowski emphasized the need for time in order to arrive at an alternative to demolition.
“The purpose of the six-month delay is to try to be creative,” Zurowski said. “You might think that’s pie in the sky. I think that’s our charge.”
He noted that Raino-Ogden, an architect, had prepared drawings for renovating the home in a way that respected the block’s integrity but appealed to contemporary buyers. Mark Zinni, a former resident of the block and an architect who has renovated 10 of the block’s homes, offered his design services to the developers pro bono.
Village regulations require the commissioners to provide a written decision within 15 days of the Dec. 5 public hearing.
If, at the end of the Dec.13 meeting, the commissioners vote to deny the certificate of appropriateness, demolition will be delayed for a six-month period retroactive to Oct. 25, the date the application was complete.