Rare rejection of teardown request in Arlington Heights, amid home's 'historical value,' officials say

Dozens of single-family homes have been torn down every year in Arlington Heights as part of the McMansion craze of recent decades.

So it was rare when a lower-level village panel this week denied a developer's request to demolish a 19th-century home that would be replaced with a modern, bigger one.

The design commission's purview is typically architectural review of new construction, but a provision in village code allows for a project to be rejected if the existing property or structure has "significant architectural, historical, aesthetic, or cultural value."

"Until (Tuesday) night, no one has come forward proposing to tear down a house of historical value to the extent that 716 N. Dunton is to the community," said Steve Hautzinger, the village's design planner and liaison to the five-member panel. "I don't want to say that the other homes have all been teardown-worthy, but they just didn't fall in a category that would attract the interest of the community like this, in terms of historical preservation."

Hautzinger's formal recommendation to the appointed commission was to deny Barrington-based Mastercraft Builders & Carpentry's petition to demolish the two-story Italianate red brick and frame house, and replace it with a new two-story structure with two-car garage.

The old house, built in 1878, is one of 38 rated as "exceptional" in a 2004 Community Preservation Report prepared by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It also was identified as one of 30 significant historic structures in Arlington Heights in an early 1970s-era State of Illinois Historic Structures Survey.

Rob Soderholm, who lives across the street, calls it a "jewel in a neighborhood of great old homes."

"Development is one thing but destruction of something so special is a travesty," wrote Soderholm, one of about two dozen neighbors who emailed village hall. "We need to do everything in our power to save this structure from the wrecking ball."

The area - some 625 houses north of the downtown up to Oakton Street - is one of the earliest-settled sections of Arlington Heights.

Saving the old Dunton house marks the latest historic preservation effort for the Historic Arlington Neighborhood Association, a community group that convinced the village board in July to downzone a block of homes just to the south.

The developer has 30 days to appeal the design commission's decision to the village board. Officials with the construction firm didn't respond to a request for comment Thursday.

But at the meeting Tuesday night, they talked about deficiencies and repairs needed in the current house.

A report by Elk Grove Village-based ALTA Engineering, hired as a consultant to the developer, labeled the condition of the building "poor," noting that a significant amount of water has infiltrated the building and allowed it to deteriorate. The engineering firm recommended new drain tile, sumps and waterproofing in the basement, and removal and replacement of the chimney, windows, wood porches, railings, trim and architectural elements.

"With the amount of work required to restore the structure of the building, the repair of the building may be cost prohibitive," wrote engineer Charles Reising. "Demolition may be a necessary option."

But in his report to the commission, Hautzinger said the home's ornate detailing has architectural and aesthetic value, and contributes to defining the architectural character of the neighborhood as a whole.

Other nearby teardowns previously approved by village officials were for houses with "insignificant" value, he said.

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