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By Nona Tepper
Demolition day has arrived for a historic yet dilapidated home in the 700 block of River Forest's William Street, a house that is rumored to be designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and which sits on a block the village has declared a local landmark.
Mayborn Development, which is comprised of River Forest residents Rob Sarvis and Mark Sullivan, purchased 747 William St. for $415,000 in August 2017, and completed their application to demolish the historic home that October. The block represents the first, and possibly only remaining, Prairie School planned development in the state.
"The question is always, 'What can be done?'" said Dave Franek, chairman of the River Forest Historic Preservation Commission. "We don't believe that the community is a museum that should never be changed, it should be dynamic. But, at the same point in time, some significant thought should go in before certain structures are demolished."
In their initial application, Sarvis and Sullivan said the home's structure was unsound, making rehabilitation impossible. But Historic Preservation 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.
The commission voted to deny Mayborn a certificate of appropriateness that December, forcing the developer to wait an additional six months before it could demolish the home. Commissioners said if Mayborn submitted plans to construct a house using the same style and materials as the other Prairie School homes on the block, it could demolish the home earlier.
Village Administrator Eric Palm said Mayborn submitted a plan to the village in April that is being reviewed by the village's building department. He added that he is not qualified to comment on the proposed style of the home. Denying developers a certificate of appropriateness is the best the commission can do to stop demolitions.
"I know a number of citizens have been very vocal at some of our meetings that they believe the ordinance should be strengthened to provide some additional teeth in the event of a proposed demolition, and that's something that we've yet to take up as a commission," Franek said. "We're doing things in a certain order and probably the first thing to do is to continue some of the public outreach."
Franek said the best way people can offer feedback to the commission is to attend the group's meetings or email the village. He said the commission has also made a list of historic homes on the village website, so homeowners know the history behind what they have, and added that the commission has also written an explanation of how property owners who rehabilitate sites in accordance with certain preservation standards can apply for tax incentives.
Tom Bierzychudek, a concerned neighbor who runs the popular "700 William Prairie Homes" Facebook page, said he's also working with the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest to develop bronze plaques to identify historic homes in the village, which will include facts like the name of the house's original resident.
He said he placed an order for his home at 754 William St. today, and that he plans to send out letters to everyone on the 700 block of William St. this week advertising the plaques, which cost $299 each. Homeowners would have to buy these plaques themselves.
"There's people doing business in the village that is contrary to what we're trying to accomplish and who we are as a village, in terms of preserving our history. People like this should be recognized for what they are, and what they do, and discouraged from doing business in the village," Bierzychudek said, referring to Sarvis and Sullivan.
"They're business people trying to make money, but there's ways to make money and not destroy history," he said.
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