Oak Park trustees reject teardowns on Pleasant Street

Plan to demolish two homes in historic district fails economic hardship test

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The Oak Park Board of Trustees rejected a request by a local real estate broker to tear down two buildings in the Ridgeland-Oak Park Historic District, denying the application for a certificate of economic hardship.

In a 6-1 vote — Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb was the dissenter — the board agreed with the Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission, which rejected the proposal unanimously, to reject the request that would have demolished residences at 1014 and 1018 Pleasant Street to make room for an 8-unit condo building. 

Building owner Al Rossell argued that although the buildings are habitable, the value of the land as a redevelopment site — he noted in his application a letter of intent with a developer to purchase the land for $1.35 million under the condition that the teardowns are approved — is greater than the $1.1 million appraisal value of the two structures should he try to sell them.

Rossell told trustees at the board meeting that the loss of $250,000 is substantial and entitles him to a favorable opinion. He purchased the two properties in the early 1970s for about $70,000, adding in a letter to the Historic Preservation Commission that "failure to provide permission to demolish the buildings will result in significant economic loss."

The commission said the differential in the sale price with or without buildings does not constitute an economic hardship because "this loss was a loss in profit, not a reduction in the fair market value of the properties."

Historic Preservation Commission member Noel Weidner said the commission was particularly concerned about the precedent that approval of such teardowns would establish in the historic district.

"The conversations we had with the applicant during the hearing revolved around how much profit or loss of profit was at stake with the sale of the property, and I don't think we believe that to be the purpose of the certificate of economic hardship," Weidner said.

Rossell argued that the board was not given full information about the hearing that rejected his request, telling the board that the meeting minutes provided did not accurately reflect his testimony. 

"I was expecting fair hearings from the commission, but I think they are designed as such that nothing gets torn down in this town," he said. 


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Reader Comments

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Chris Johnson from OP  

Posted: June 12th, 2019 6:47 PM

Also, Al may have thought he was making a great investment (40 years ago) and lining things up for retirement. So he should take a hit because people want to make sure their jobs are valid (historic society). I really don't think anyone would be ok with sitting on an investment and then being jacked around. I've seen people get more money from eminent domain settlements than this guy is getting (and thats because of a change in zoning changed the value of their property).

Chris Johnson from OP  

Posted: June 12th, 2019 6:41 PM

I'm pretty sure the "high rise condo" just to the west of the two homes is a complex of *8* units (if you read in the article, it mentions the proposal was for *8* units). For example. These lots back up to businesses, so its not like you are blocking anything on the other side of the alley. Maintaining these 100+ year old homes costs a lot of money. Investing that money costs you even more money since you get taxed through the nose. What is the incentive to keep them up? Should he sell them at a loss when he could have made money to make *you* happy? I get it, he should essentially give them away to people who are super willing to "maintain" these "historic" homes - until they realize that "doing the right thing" and submitting plans and hiring the right contractors costs a ton of cash plus you double your tax bill - so they sit in the homes and let them rot. Because thats the "right thing to do"? Ah, and parking. It is awful all over OP. And just wait - looks like its getting worse with more restrictions.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: June 12th, 2019 11:01 AM

Hey Al, nice Carlton Fisk catch their. I would put you in the class with A.J.. but I am to lazy to look up the spelling of his last name.

Al Rossell  

Posted: June 12th, 2019 10:25 AM

Kimberlyn: You cant possibly live across the street as that is the Farson Mills house. Dont know where you got the idea of a high rise.

Kymberlyn Rosalind  

Posted: June 11th, 2019 7:24 PM

I live in the building right across from the two homes in the picture.. If he owns them, he should work on keeping them up.. He is obviously not because they never look like much gardening is done and the houses could use a little repair for sure.. But NO do I want a high rise condo across from my building. We have tall beautiful trees in my courtyard and some tall monster condo would block out light. Plus single family? I am assuming they will come with parking because parking is virtually non-existent on Pleasant and it is zoned to the max. This is one of the reason I got rid of my car and I walk to everything now.

Brian Sieben  

Posted: June 8th, 2019 9:55 PM

I grew up in that neighborhood and clearly remember the cranes with the wrecking ball smashing the houses on Clinton and south boulevard in the 60s so they could build a ugly apartment building in its place. I returned a few years ago and walked the old neighborhood and was pleasantly, no pun intended, surprised how good the old homes look. Better now then they were 50 years ago. My hats off to all the people who renovated. Growing up as a kid there I always remember Mills Park and also remember as I walked to the Y I was heading towards businesses and big apartment buildings. I think if a building is carefully designed to fit in then an old home with no historic value besides being in a historic district should be allowed to come down. IMHO

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: June 6th, 2019 3:57 PM

Doesn't the economic loss come to play with the difference Rossell woud get if he tore down, built and resold rather than an individual sale of existing homes?

Al Rossell  

Posted: June 6th, 2019 12:58 PM

Alice I agree and it is an option but a law suit not only will cost me but will also cost the Village and there is nothing to prevent me from refiling again in the future. I will wait on that to give the commissioners and trustees the opportunity to read the ordinance. In the meanwhile, perhaps a die heart preservationist might want to buy it. I might even give them a small break. A major issue in this entire situation is the effect a historic district has on your property rights. Ask homeowners in a district if they would once again buy a home in a historic district in the future and many would say no. Ask yourself why we are selling homes outside of a district at high prices when compared to the outstanding victorians that seem to be sitting on the market. What once was advisory now seems to be an over reach. Good things are happening in southeast Oak Park while our old housing stock is becoming functionally obsolete.

Alice Caputo  

Posted: June 6th, 2019 12:33 PM

Fair enough Al, then you should file a lawsuit and should have no problem prevailing.

Al Rossell  

Posted: June 6th, 2019 12:22 PM

Alice. The developers did not mislead me. The writer of the ordinance and the attorney who use to represent the commission have both stated I am correct and qualify. We can have a more in depth conversation once you read the ordinance so you are fully informed before making unfounded decisions/statements.

Alice Caputo  

Posted: June 6th, 2019 12:18 PM

Hi Al. I personally don't have a strong position on what should be built on your land but your request does not legally quality as a hardship which is all I was stating. You can speak to a few land use attorneys and they would agree. Your property is only more valuable if it is allowed to be torn down AND re-built with something larger. I'm sorry the developers mislead you to believe something else. As much as you dislike this decision, it is far better than many other states and communities who nanny state everything. If I were you, I'd sell for the $1.1 and move on. BTW, I am taking $250K less for my house than in 2005 due to market conditions and rising taxes.

Al Rossell  

Posted: June 6th, 2019 11:06 AM

To Alice Caputo. The ordinance clearly states that provided the owner did not create the hardship the commission must consider the difference (loss) in market value if the demolition is not granted. I ask you, would you sell me your home for $250,000 less than what it is worth. I suggest you read the Historic District Ordinance under economic hardship.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: June 6th, 2019 10:35 AM

I agree with you, Chris Johnson, that this was a bad call, and I love historic architecture, but the area around Pleasant Home is not zoned single family if my memory serves me correctly. No doubt Al Rossell bought those properties knowing he was entitled to do this by zoning rights. I grew up in the 400 block of south Harvey where the John Van Bergen house my family lived in still stands, my family having been stalwarts in the resistance to developers. Houses fell like dominos all around us because between Austin and Harlem, Madison and Washington, it was all zoned multi-family. Man, there were some ugly buildings built during that gold rush of development in the 1950s and 60s. Just take a zig-zag ride through there to see for yourself. But what can you do...zoning allowed that and most people were happy to get the extra cash selling to a developer often provides, for their growing families but it unalterably changes a neighborhood, socially and aesthetically. There's no going back, just a serious lesson in community design and what constitutes bad planning. That neighborhood where this project under discussion is predominately apartment buildings, so it's a pretty different situation. One thing that gives me pause is the price tag of new condos, they are the price of houses. I thought condos were supposed to be a more affordable way to live. At the same time, the Village approved a developer who is buying or bought a property from Trustee Taglia, whom I respect very much, who recused himself from voting. The thing I find misguided in this town is changing commercial districts to residential districts. If you look at Lincoln Avenue, Clark Street, Southport, the city was wise not to let that happen and they still have thriving business districts providing restaurants and services that makes those areas seem very much alive. We are closing that door every time the Board chooses to put residences there instead of maintaining a commercial zoning standard.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: June 6th, 2019 10:21 AM

Al - Yes, So? I was just pointing out possible unintended consequences. Loss of green space is an issue for some people. And whatever the zoning ordinance SAYS, the new owner/developer can certainly apply for waivers to the zoning for those parcels and build whatever he wants. He will claim financial hardship if he's not allowed to override the zoning requirements.

Alice Caputo  

Posted: June 6th, 2019 10:13 AM

The owner is not taking a "loss" he is looking for a $250,000 gain that he would achieve if granted permission to tear down the buildings, not sure why that fact is getting missed here. For example, I'm guessing Chick fil A would pay more than current market value for the former Marshall Fields building but most would never think the owner is losing money if denied in zoning to tear it down.

Al Rossell  

Posted: June 6th, 2019 10:05 AM

To Maureen. It is condos and the zoning controls height and setback. By the way setbacks on that block are all different. None are similar.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: June 6th, 2019 9:44 AM

to those who support the idea of a new 8-unit townhouse building on these two lots IF it meets some standard of "good design", keep in mind that no matter how attractive it may be, it is VERY LIKELY that any new construction will take up pretty much the entire footprint of both lots - leaving almost no front setback, very little side setback and no space between buildings as currently exists. Plus the townhouses will likely be considerably taller than the current buildings.

Marion Digre  

Posted: June 6th, 2019 8:52 AM

I don't see anything about those buildings that merit keeping them as they are. I'm not a neighbor but if I was, I would welcome an eight unit condo building with a good design as an improvement to the neighborhood. And if a $250,000 + loss to a senior citizen who is probably trying to retire using this asset is not an economic hardship, then it's hard to know what is. I think denying this application was a spectacularly bad call.

Chris Johnson from OP  

Posted: June 6th, 2019 8:24 AM

@Christine - very good point on how they managed to get those approved. Where this Al person wants to build - those two homes are sandwiched between two buildings that are 3 or 4 stories and I'm guessing 8 units at least? Not entirely sure on the unit count, didn't dive into records that far. But shadowing over yards and houses wouldn't be an issue. I'm sure the people living in those enjoy their sunlight on their top floors because the homes currently there don't block. But those buildings are blocking those homes... Honestly, those homes just look out of place. Not quite as extreme but similar to that house in "Up"...

Christine Vernon  

Posted: June 5th, 2019 11:36 PM

It's not my neighborhood and it won't be towering above the yards around me like the two projects we have at Lake and Forest now. I am grateful for that. Some houses are too old to bring back without them becoming "The Money Pit" (old movie). I like the idea of condos in a smaller building but not a three flat, too small. 8 units, four stories. I think if I were the neighbors of that site, I would want to see how good the design will be before I would support the idea. It is just ironic though Al, how easily the high-rises, big money, got approved so easily, what greases those deals? Wish we could follow that money. And yet someone who has been here for years, with a project that's not outrageous, gets turned down. Something is kind of screwy with this picture. There are so many baby boomers moving out of their big houses and they have no intention of living twenty stories up because there will come that day when the elevator is out of commission, too difficult for a person the age of a baby boomer to navigate. Smaller is better. The whole problem with DTOP is that is is simply becoming too dense, no decent convenient parking, traffic is a mess on Lake Street most of the time. Albion has the skinniest sidewalk just like the project on Harlem and Maple. Makes a person long to live in a quiet little hamlet somewhere.

Al Rossell  

Posted: June 5th, 2019 9:14 PM

correction below Riidgeland not Pleasant Historic District

Al Rossell  

Posted: June 5th, 2019 8:32 PM

I just have a few words to say. For those of you that are happy with the decision, I wonder if you would sell your house for $250,000 less than its worth. On another issue, I would suggest you read what the defining elements were for creation of the Pleasant Historic District and you will note the 1000 block does not possess any of those elements. The district ends at the alley behind the houses and 148 feet west. Also look at the provision of economic hardship in the ordinance and you will note I qualify. The sad thing is that the commissioners and trustees fail to acknowledge the criteria. The provisions in the ordinance were created specifically for my type of situation. I bought these long before many of you moved into this community. And for the record, a requirement in the purchase was that the design had to be prairie school to avoid the crap designs being built in this town. Anybody have a question, I am sure you know how to get hold of me.

Chris Johnson from OP  

Posted: June 5th, 2019 6:43 PM

@Christine - Looks a lot like the 152 N. Scoville one he designed. But I'm still not sure we should keep everything, right?

Christine Vernon  

Posted: June 5th, 2019 6:39 PM

Is the house on the left by Wright's student, John Van Bergen?

Chris Johnson from OP  

Posted: June 5th, 2019 4:14 PM

@Jeanine - I wish they sold for those prices. Would make my full gut rehab home worth more. But I'd likely just get $650k. Look at 259 Home, 231 S Grove, or 733 Clinton. Pretty beautiful homes with I'm sure "great bones" and they can't move them. Check out their starting prices and see how low they've gone. You are kidding yourself if you think people will pay $600k for something they will be stuck paying high taxes and sinking tons of money into... only to pay *more* crazy taxes. Everyone in OP trying to sell thinks their home is worth so much more and the last time they did anything to it was in the 70s. (MAYBE) I don't think the teardowns will sell that much either now that those tax bills are out and over $35k. People will be far more hesitant to buy. A $9k property tax bill in 2013ish with new home improvements since purchase (bathrooms, kitchen, siding, roof, floors, etc) is now $20k (min). People that are selling their homes are those under-pricing them. Homes priced where we all think they should be aren't moving.

Jeanine Pedersen  

Posted: June 5th, 2019 3:55 PM

Houses that will be selling for close to $600,000 each, as-is, are hardly in tear down condition. So happy the Board voted against tearing these homes down.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: June 5th, 2019 3:42 PM

The economics of trying to break even renting a non-owner occupied 2 flat in OP is pretty brutal. Maybe it can be sold to a not for profit and taken off the tax roles, putting the tax burden on everyone. That is par for the course around here. Dinosaurs have great bones too, but adding the meat back is way too expensive.

Chris Johnson from OP  

Posted: June 5th, 2019 3:32 PM

Not sure those homes "maintain" anything historic. That street has quite a few multi-family buildings. Why not just ask that they stay in that "style" of building and call it a day. But, honestly, doesn't matter since any additional tax dollars are integrated on-top and not used to reduce. Just let the buildings collapse on their own and call it a day. Drive around OP and you'll see homes that are questionably safe to live in but this is where they focus their energy? A home that is worth barely more than the land its on and paying up to $15.7k and $14k? Homes that pay those taxes elsewhere are in much better shape (new or much more attractive). Its not worth updating a home in OP, your property taxes will double. Unless you close the blinds and do it. All around bad.

Cathy Villanova Ivcich from Chicago  

Posted: June 5th, 2019 1:50 PM

My family owned both of these homes back in the 1940's and 1950's. We lived in 1014 Pleasant and my dad rented 1018 to a lovely couple who had the most fantastic antique furniture. Plenty of fun for us 8 kids who went to St. Edmunds and spent countless hours across from Mills Park. As I remember, both homes have great bones, wonderful floorplans and incredible woodwork. The current owner, whom I believe is a realtor, could put some money into the homes and bring them back to the grand ladies they once were. Thank you Village Board for saving my childhood home.

Nicholas Kalogeresis from Oak Park  

Posted: June 5th, 2019 1:31 PM

Good decision by the Village Board. There's plenty of properties outside the districts in which developers can consider. Historic districts help us understand where appropriate development should happen and where it should not.

Petra B Donyale from forest park  

Posted: June 5th, 2019 11:18 AM

I'm glad they won't tear them down. these new condo buildings are terrible. they are made cheap..and over-priced.

Pam Niesluchowski  

Posted: June 4th, 2019 9:41 PM

It's less about their particular history and more about their contribution to the feel of the neighborhood. They fit within that aesthetic. Could they look better? Of course! They could be fixed up and further contribute. As a near neighbor, I am more supportive of these houses than a new condo building.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2019 5:33 PM

Those buildings are pretty shabby. And nothing historic ever happened in or near them. And the shadow they cast wouldn't hurt anything. If they can't go then pretty much nothing in town can be torn down, ever.

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