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City's application to demolish Wiant House denied by commission

Published: Thursday, July 4, 2013 11:23 a.m. CST • Updated: Friday, July 25, 2014 4:48 a.m. CST

WEST CHICAGO – The fate of the historic Joel Wiant House in West Chicago now sits with the city, as the role of the Historical Preservation Commission came to a close July 3 with a unanimous vote to deny the city its request for demolition.

This latest decision was the second from the commission, after the city appealed its last vote. The previous vote also concluded that the city of West Chicago is not entitled to a Certificate of Appropriateness to demolish the 144-year-old house.

The city has the option to appeal the commission's ruling within the next 15 days to the West Chicago City Council, which has the final say in whether to demolish the house, located at 151 W. Washington St. in the Turner Junction Historic District.

For local preservationists such as Frank Fokta, that means it's time to get to work meeting with city council members.

"We remain hopeful that the city council will realize that the house should be saved," said Fokta, who is a member of the West Chicago Historical Society.

The Historical Preservation Commission previously held a public hearing June 4 about the house and later met June 25 to discuss what had been presented at the hearing.

Although experts called by city staff found restoration of the Wiant House would not be economically viable, they also agreed the home is structurally sound, the same finding as an architect hired by the commission.

The house has been noted for its historical and architectural significance, as it was placed on Landmark Illinois’ 10 Most Endangered Historic Places list for 2013. It also is the last remaining structure built in the Second Empire style in DuPage County.

"The city has a very unique history in DuPage County," Fokta said. "Having a tangible piece of that history in our town is something we should be proud of."

Commissioners expressed concerns June 25 regarding the lack of a concrete plan for the land surrounding the Wiant House and how the historic building could play a role in developing the area, saying it's premature to pursue demolition in this case.

"The default is if you can't figure out what to do with it, rip it down," Fokta said. "That shouldn't happen with this one."

The city council voted to buy the Wiant House for $260,000 in October 2011. Staff were directed to select a developer willing to take on the project, but when no qualified developers came forward, the city requested a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historical Preservation Commission to demolish the building.

After city officials opted to appeal the commission's denial of that request, the public hearing required by that process was delayed from Dec. 4 until June 4.

Since that time, city officials have said there is one potential developer interested in the property, Town Builder Studios of Riverside.

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