Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Fascist Preservationists of Edgewater

The government tells you that you cannot sell your house because "preservation" and "history" are more important to a handful of elitist, petty dictators than is the right of private property. Screw you, private citizen, we are the Chosen Ones. What we dictate must be obeyed.

That's what was attempted last year on Chicago's north side. The Edgewater Historical Society did not want Brigitta Riedel to sell her house at 6018 North Kenmore. (Photo by T.H.Mannis, May, 2008) Now, she's suing the bastards for money she says she lost because of interference in selling her house. We hope she wins.

Mark Konkol reports in the Chicago Sun-Times today:

... when members of the Edgewater Historical Society got wind of a developer's plan to buy the yellow-brick behemoth at 6018 N. Kenmore and tear it down to build condos, they rallied to save the place, seeing it as a potential city landmark.

Now, the neighborhood preservationists are being sued. Property owner Brigitta Riedel says she lost out on more than $1 million when the sale went south and is suing to the historical society and four of its board members, accusing them of carrying off a "calculated, sophisticated attack" to kill the sale. Full Story, Chicago Sun-Times... 

I reported on this subject in May, 2008 for the Chicago Journal (which they have thoughtlessly removed from their web site). Take a look:

Edgewater Landmarking Effort Defeated May, 2008

Community representatives voted down an attempt to impose landmark status on 15 buildings in Chicago's Edgewater and Rogers Park neighborhoods. Eleven of the structures are in Alderman Mary Ann Smith's 48th Ward and four are within Alderman Joe Moore's 49th Ward.

Approximately 50 people crowded into Alderman Smith's office on Wednesday, May 28, 2008 to discuss, and then vote on, the proposal. The comments were heated on both sides.

The meeting was hosted by Ald. Smith at her 5533 N. Broadway office. Most of the buildings are private homes. The landmakring effort met vehement resistance from community members. Voting was restricted to delegates from block clubs and community organizations. The proposal was defeated in a roll call vote: 20 "No," 8 "Yes," 7 abstained.

Valerie Leopold owns one of the houses that was targeted for landmakring by the City of Chicago. Leopold, of Leopold & Associates, LLC law firm, spoke to group and stated her opposition to the landmakring process.

"I hear [them] talk about voluntary landmakring," Leopold said to the crowded room, "I think that's great. That's not what's happening here."

The controversial landmakring process started late last year when the Edgewater Historical Society (EHS) asked Alderman Smith to save 6018 N. Kenmore from demolition. According to Leroy Blommaert of EHS, Smith went to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks for help in preserving 6018. But, says, Blommaert, the Commission added 14 more houses to be considered for landmakring.

Blommaert told the community meeting that this "is not our project or proposal. We categorically reject that. We were concerned about a proposed demolition [at 6018] N. Kenmore." He said the EHS "sent letters to property owners in April, 2008. Blommaert told News-Star that EHS had "no role" in expanding the list to 15 properties. He said the letters to property owners were mailed to some of the targeted property owners in early April and to others in late April.

Valerie Leopold had more to say at the May 28 meeting. "This is a situation where the Edgewater Historical Society is the organization moving behind landmakring. Now, they just finished telling you they weren't, but I refer to a letter by the alderman." She then quoted from a May 9, 2008 letter from Alderman Smith's office.

Smith's letter said, "The Edgewater Historical Society, not this office or the city, asked that the community consider landmakring some of the older buildings in the northeast section of Edgewater." The rest of the paragraph that Leopold quoted from says that the landmakring request "was prompted by a development proposal to demolish a single family home at 6018 N. Kenmore that is considered 'significant.' Our response was that we would not advance the proposal for a 'scattered' historic district....without engaging in our community review process."

Had the landmark status been imposed on the structures, the owners would not have been compensated. Landmakring often causes significant loss of property value. Several of the targeted buildings are "vacant and crumbling," according to Smith's May 8 letter. "We do not want vacant and deteriorating buildings to become a problem for the community. We are reluctant to repeat our experience with 5416 N. Winthrop….where the owner's demolition by neglect resulted in threats to public safety, squatters, structural hazards, a fire and other serious problems."

"Developers don't look for landmakred properties," one neighbor said at the meeting. Once landmakred, few potential buyers want to consider purchasing it. Indeed, landmakring a structure can be a disincentive for the owner to maintain it. With lost value and costly restrictions as to how the landmakred building can be refurbished, owners are sometimes reluctant to put out the cash. Selling a landmakred building can be difficult, too.

"If you can't stand behind what you propose," Leopold said of EHS, "I think there's something wrong. I think at a deep level you know what you're doing isn't right."

"I asked Edgewater Historical Society," Leopold said, "would you please, at least, allow us to come and present our side, like you're having an opportunity here tonight. They said 'no, won't do it.' An organization that won't take credit for their proposal, an organization that wants to talk to block clubs where only they can be present? There's something wrong with that. Why do you need to hide if you're doing the right thing?"

Leopold's comments were representative of many of the property owners. Owners and many community organizations alike expressed concern about the way the process was handled. EHS, said Leopold, pitched the proposal to community groups but did not approach the property owners.

Kathy Gemperle, President of the Edgewater Historical Society, asked the group "to think 100 years in the future. We believe these 15 homes are evidence of another time, they are public works of art."

Jean Johnson is an architect who has owned the house at 6032 N. Winthrop for 22 years. Johnson responded to Gemperle's remarks. " I've heard the word 'fairness' but have we heard the word 'justice'? Why do you want to landmark my building? To stand in front of it and admire it? Why don't you pick up the litter from the people who live in the seven-story building next door to me?"

The proposal was defeated in a roll call vote. One attendee moved that Alderman Smith meet with representatives of EHS and targeted property owners to "work out a program for TIF money to help owners."

"Over my dead body," said Alderman Smith. She said TIF monies are for schools and other more urgent needs. Smith chided EHS by telling them that "If you want to be a viable historical society you'll sit down with banks and owners and become a viable organization."