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Article posted: 7/12/2013 5:35 PM

W. Chicago continues push to raze 144-year-old home

By Robert Sanchez

When it comes to plans to raze a 144-year-old house in downtown West Chicago, city officials aren't taking "no" for an answer.

They formally have asked the city council to overturn a decision by the West Chicago Historical Preservation Commission and allow the demolition of the city-owned Joel Wiant House to make room for redevelopment.

Last week, the historical commission called on the city to withdraw its request to tear down the brick building at 151 W. Washington St.

In denying the city's application for a so-called "certificate of appropriateness," commissioners said the city should renovate the building or weatherproof it to gain more time for a suitable new use or owner to be found.

But this week, city officials decided to appeal the commission's recommendation.

"We are pursuing it based on the directive originally given by the city council to seek demolition of the property through the COA (certificate of appropriateness) process," said John Said, director of community development.

The certificate is needed because the house is within West Chicago's Turner Junction Historical District.

Commission Chairwoman Janet Dayton Hale on Friday said she wasn't surprised by the appeal.

"This is staff working under the initial direction to pursue the COA for demolition," Hale said. "They are just doing what they were told."

Mayor Ruben Pineda acknowledged the council decided in late 2011 to seek demolition as a backup plan in case the city failed to find someone to restore the house, which has been vacant for years and fallen into disrepair.

However, Pineda stressed a final decision about the building's fate hasn't been made.

"If it was an absolute definite that the city council wanted the home destroyed, it would have been gone," he said. "We're giving everyone ample time."

There have been two separate attempts by the city to sell the house for a dollar. But officials haven't been able to find a buyer capable of rehabilitating the structure for retail, restaurant, office, commercial or cultural uses.

The house also stands in an area the city has slated for redevelopment.

Still, Pineda said he doesn't want the decision to be rushed. So he has directed the council's development committee to review the appeal next month and make a recommendation to the full council.

"I have no idea what they're going to do," Pineda said.

In the meantime, preservationists are expected to push for the house to become "an adaptive reuse" within the 14-acre West Washington Street Redevelopment Project area. They say the building should be preserved because it's a prime example of the "Second Empire" architectural style. It also has ties to two prominent families.

Local businessman Joel Wiant had the house built around 1869. It later was occupied by John W. Leedle, West Chicago's first city attorney.

"I think the city has a great asset in this building," Hale said.

However, estimates the city received show it would cost at least $550,000 to make needed exterior and interior repairs to the structure.

While he would like to see the building saved, Pineda said he can't justify spending that much taxpayer money to restore it.

"I have to think of the whole community," he said, "and every single taxpayer in the community."

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