Historic Naperville home to be torn down

A dilapidated, 144-year-old house in Naperville's historic district will be torn down, much to the dismay of several neighbors and city officials who hoped it could be restored.

The two-story residence at 26 N. Sleight St. has been vacant for years and was deemed uninhabitable by the city in 2015, according to city documents. Potential buyers Christopher and Mary Anne Yep submitted a request to demolish the structure, which their contractors say could cost upward of $500,000 to make livable again, so they can construct a new home in its place.

In what they called a "regrettable" decision, city council members voted 7-1 last week to raze the gable-front house built in 1875. Though most agreed the building is beyond repair, they said the situation serves as a wake-up call for the community to take better care of its historic structures.

"It's just too far gone. It's all our faults for letting it get this way," Councilman Paul Hinterlong said. "It's very unfortunate, but I hope it's a learning exercise for ... anyone that desires the historic district for what it is."

Councilwoman Becky Anderson voted against the measure, saying she wants to ensure the character of the district is preserved. Though her colleagues echoed her sentiments, many said tearing down the eyesore is a better alternative that letting it sit vacant and structurally unsound.

Several residents urged officials to save the home and questioned how it got to be in a state of such disrepair. Neighbor Susan Fitch said allowing demolition only rewards homeowners for failing to maintain their property.

"They're benefiting from being able to sell the home as a development site," she said. "We love our old neighborhood. We love the character. ... If we let the more modest (homes) that are neglected just go away, we lose the story of Naperville."

City code lists various rules, fines and penalties to prevent homeowners from letting their properties deteriorate, especially within the historic district, said Allison Laff, deputy director of transportation, engineering and development. The program is largely complaint-based, though some council members suggested the city take a more proactive approach.

It was a request from the police department's social worker in 2015 that prompted Naperville code enforcement officers to assess the Sleight Street home, which neighbors said was previously occupied by an elderly woman. A "Not Approved for Occupancy" placard was posted on every entrance after the interior was found to be in "unsanitary condition," documents show.

Since then, the Yeps have been one of two potential buyers to submit an application for the site, officials said. The other applicant also sought demolition but later decided not to pursue the project.

Before going to city council, the proposal to raze the house received a 4-4 vote from the historic preservation commission. The panel now is expected to consider the Yeps' request for a certificate of appropriateness to construct a new home at the corner of Sleight Street and Franklin Avenue.

Councilman Kevin Coyne expressed concerns that the city is relying on petitioners' contractors to tell them whether a structure is salvageable, which he says is a "very difficult situation for us to be in." He and Councilwoman Rebecca Boyd-Obarski suggested the city look into doing their own independent review of sites slated for renovation or demolition.

Boyd-Obarski said the process has unveiled "flaws in our own system" when it comes to preserving the city's historic properties. Neighbors also deserve to be notified of every step in the approval process, she added.

"I hope we learn some lessons from this," she said. "We have designated that this is something we want to protect. Let's stand behind that."

  A 144-year-old house in Naperville's historic district will be torn down. Code enforcement officers deemed the house uninhabitable in 2015. Bev Horne/
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