Appeal planned after historic mansion demolition denied in Naperville

  • Naperville's Historic Preservation Commission voted not to allow demolition of the Kroehler mansion, one of five buildings on a Wright Street site owned by the disability services agency and school Little Friends. The nonprofit now plans to appeal the denial in hopes of clearing the entire site for sale to a housing developer.

      Naperville's Historic Preservation Commission voted not to allow demolition of the Kroehler mansion, one of five buildings on a Wright Street site owned by the disability services agency and school Little Friends. The nonprofit now plans to appeal the denial in hopes of clearing the entire site for sale to a housing developer. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Members of Naperville's Historic Preservation Commission granted demolition permission for most of the buildings on the Little Friends site except the Kroehler mansion, seen behind the flag. The mansion was built in 1907 and 1908 and was the short-term home of Naperville furniture magnate and two-time mayor Peter Edward Kroehler.

      Members of Naperville's Historic Preservation Commission granted demolition permission for most of the buildings on the Little Friends site except the Kroehler mansion, seen behind the flag. The mansion was built in 1907 and 1908 and was the short-term home of Naperville furniture magnate and two-time mayor Peter Edward Kroehler. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/25/2019 2:18 PM

The Little Friends disability service organization and school in Naperville has filed to appeal a historic preservation commission denial of its request to demolish one of the buildings on its Wright Street campus.

The denial late Thursday hinged on the Kroehler mansion, a house built in 1907 and 1908 and once occupied by Naperville furniture magnate and two-time mayor Peter Edward Kroehler.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The mansion is one of five buildings on the site, according to city documents, and the only one for which the historic preservation commission decided its historical significance outweighs the cost that would be required to preserve it.

The commission would permit demolition of three other buildings -- Krejci Academy, an administration center and a gym -- while the fourth building, a carriage house now used as a garage, can be razed without the commission's review.

The demolition denial for the Kroehler mansion means all eight offers Little Friends has received for the property are no longer viable, spokesman Patrick Skarr said early Friday.

The organization is trying to sell the land for the highest value to facilitate a move to a newer building in Warrenville that would be more conducive to education of people with autism and special needs. Leaders have said selling it with one or more buildings still standing would not net as much from prospective developers and would make the whole plan a bust.

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"We are asking for it (demolition) because if we stay there we die. It's a million cuts. Those buildings are killing us and we've got to get out," Little Friends' attorney Scott Day said. "Don't make us a captive of preservation at this location. That's our plea."

Little Friends on Friday submitted a two-page letter to the city seeking a review from the city council, which can consider -- and potentially overturn -- the demolition denial from the preservation commission.

Ten preservationists and nearby residents spoke to the commission about the mansion's value.

"I'm in favor of the mission of Little Friends, but not in favor of demolishing a historically significant building in a historic district," former preservation commission member Tom Ryan said. "To me, it just doesn't make sense."

Some said allowing the mansion to be torn down would spell the end of the Naperville historic district.

"My fear is the mansion will go, the lot will change zoning, we will have a very large building on that lot, and we will no longer have a historic district," Tom Coyne said. "We will have a historic doughnut, a bunch of old buildings surrounding this new thing."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

An independent structural analysis conducted by Farnsworth Group as part of the request for demolition determined it would cost $374,375 to convert the mansion, now used as a high school for students with emotional difficulties, back into use as a home or as part of a school.

But an architectural analysis completed by Little Friends consultant Wight & Company estimated the mansion would need roughly $1 million of work in the next year or two to replace building systems that are at the end of their life cycle. To repair and renovate the full campus -- and to add on the space Little Friends needs to meet growing demand -- would cost roughly $16 million.

Buying the property Little Friends has identified in Warrenville and building it out into a school would cost less than half that amount, at an estimated $7 million, President and CEO Mike Briggs has said.

Selling the roughly 4 acres along Wright Street, with its current zoning for residential use, could bring in enough return to help make a move economically feasible, Briggs said. Appraiser Philip J. Butler, hired by Little Friends, valued the property at $5.5 million.

"This application is one of economic reasonableness," Day said. "Is it economically reasonable to preserve anything on this property if what it's going to do is crush the ability of Little Friends to move or make them a captive of the building that you want to preserve?"

With their vote not to allow demolition of the mansion, commission members unanimously answered that with a "yes." One commission member, Mark Urda, said denying permission to tear down the mansion gives "a clearer path to development," one in which the mansion could be moved to a corner of the site, leaving roughly 16 lots for other homes to be built.

"I don't think we're really telling Little Friends that they have to take this cost (of preservation) on," Urda said. "Really the developer is facing this cost ... This gives you a clear path to go forward."

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