After a months-long debate over the future of a dilapidated, yet historic, home, River Forest’s Historic Preservation Commission recently OK’d a developer’s plans to demolish 747 William St., on condition that they comply with a few demands.

“We are being robbed at this point, we are being held up by gunpoint,” said Commissioner Carla Graham-White. “Maybe we can say, ‘OK rob us, but don’t take all my money. Don’t shoot me.’ I think, perhaps, this might be the best solution at this point, if the owner is willing to agree to what conditions we ask.”

The village’s seven-person Historic Preservation Commission voted 4-3 on Dec. 13 to approve Mayborn Development’s plan to demolish the historic home on the 700 block of William Street, a block the village has declared a local landmark.

Mayborn comprises River Forest residents Rob Sarvis and Mark Sullivan. The two 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. At the meeting, Commissioner David Raino-Ogden disputed developers’ and architects’ claims, arguing that the other 24 Prairie-style homes on the block have been preserved and had their foundations replaced. Raino-Ogden even drew up plans for how the structure could be renovated.

“But that’s not the purpose of what Rob and Mark want to do with the house,” said Pat Magner, architect for Mayborn’s project. “They’re not there to salvage a foundation and get this place restored in the historical condition it’s in. … “The purpose is to build a new house. They bought the house to make a profit, that’s their job, that’s what they do.”

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

Initially, commissioners voted on Dec. 13 to deny a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the property, with only Commissioner Al Popowits dissenting. As a result, Mayborn cannot demolish the property until at least April 25, or six months after the completed application was filed.

Commissioners stipulated that, if Mayborn submits a new set of building plans that that meets the commission’s specifications, developers can demolish the home sooner.

The new plans must show that the new home will be built in the same, simple Prairie School style as the rest of the block; not exceed the height of the current structure; be constructed using the same wood and stucco materials as the current home; maintain the original design of the front façade, with the existing front room turned into an open porch; sit no larger than 3,000 square feet; sit from the street at the same distance as the current home; and that any additions added to the house be set back 5 feet from the front façade.

An altered date for demolition was not specified if Mayborn meets the new, approved building plans. Commission Chairman Tom Zurowski must approve and send a letter to Mayborn stipulating the conditions by Dec. 23, or 10 days after the meeting. 

“Once this is done, the commission should go back and see what is wrong with the current ordinance,” said Commissioner Graham-White, arguing that the Historic Preservation Commission needs more teeth to stall or block demolitions of historic local homes. “Basically, six months is much too short; maybe a developer will think twice if it’s one year or 18 months.”

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com

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