“Over the years, the Lincoln Park neighborhood has seen many fights over historic preservation. They have pitted neighbor against neighbor and produced uneasy compromises to protect limited stretches while leaving most patches open to change.
“Preservationists have paid close attention to the Sheffield area on Lincoln Park’s western edge. Parts of it can take visitors back to the late 19th century. But when cheap money sloshes through real estate, things happen.
“In 2019, the advocacy group Landmarks Illinois counted 350 properties that have been destroyed or significantly altered in Sheffield since the 1990s, about a third of its building stock. People tear down homes and combine lots to build something bigger. They replace multiple units with single-family homes, which some contend disrespects the neighborhood’s character.
“Plopped into this little pot of tension is a Sheffield homeowner, Patrick Nash. He lives on Seminary Avenue, and he’s bought the three-flat next door with the intent to tear it down.
“He hit a local nerve because the three-flat was flagged in a historic resources survey as potentially worth saving. And he’s told people he wants the property as a side yard, a garden for him and his family to enjoy. It offends those who believe that where housing exists, it should stay.
“Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, called the teardown plan ‘shameful’ and said it reinforces the need for a deeper city review of potential landmarks.
“The building in question, at 2028 N. Seminary, carries an ‘orange’ rating under Chicago’s classification of older or historic buildings. It doesn’t protect it but puts a 90-day hold on any demolition order, providing time to get people to talk. Otherwise, the city can do little.
“Nash declined to speak with me on the record, which is his right, but it leaves me to conjecture about his side of the question. Some guesses: He’s not breaking any law, nor building anything schlocky. His yard might even beautify a neighborhood that prizes its annual garden walk. And the pandemic has taught us all to appreciate more fresh air.
“This will be one expensive side yard. Nash, a partner at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis, paid $1.26 million for the property in September, records show. The city’s hold on his demolition permit expires in late January.
“Brian Comer, president of the Sheffield Neighborhood Association, said he relayed to Nash his board’s concern about changes to the historic character, but there’s nothing to stop the Seminary demolition. ‘This is a wonderful springboard to have another conversation in our neighborhood about preservation,’ Comer said.” (Roeder, Chicago Sun-Times, 12/13/21)
Preservation Chicago worked with urgency to try to prevent this demolition. We initiated a rapid response advocacy campaign with community members to bring attention to the issue. We amplified the story through social media and through news articles. Ward Miller outreached to many decisionmakers and stakeholders including alderman, city officials, and the owner. In this circumstance, there were almost no policy tools that could prevent the demolition, other than convincing the owner to change directions.
With persistence, Ward was able to reach the owner and have a constructive conversation with him during which he presented a variety of alternatives, options and reasons to avoid demolition. The owner agreed to consider the many alternatives presented. The conversation seemed to have delayed the demolition by a few months, but the owner ultimately decided to proceed with the demolition.
Homeowner’s yen for a yard revives debate in Lincoln Park; Property owners in the federal Sheffield historic district have butted heads on preservation, and now a resident wants to tear down an 1880s building for open space, David Roeder, Chicago Sun-Times, 12/13/21
Should the wealthy be allowed to demolish real estate to create their own open space? Cities should be getting denser and more diverse, not demolishing their housing stock so that the rich can have larger yards, Emily Talen, Chicago Sun-Times Op-Ed, 12/21/21