Rogers Park Community Opposes Plan to Demolish a 1905 Home For Parking Lot Expansion

A house located on West Touhy Avenue faces demolition in favor of a church parking lot.

A historic Rogers Park home is facing demolition to expand the parking lot of a nearby church, prompting community members to voice their objections.

The home, located at 1530 W. Touhy Ave., is a single-family home built in 1905. The Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church has owned the house since 2011, and the house doesn’t qualify for any historic preservation protections, according to a Facebook statement by 49th Ward Alderwoman Maria Hadden.

The church proposed this parking lot expansion back in 2006 but was rejected by the Chicago City Council due to opposition from the community, according to the neighbors’ online petition. Signers of the petition hope to see this decision repeated again.

Bill Phillips, a Rogers Park resident of nine years, said he sees the demolition as a loss to the neighborhood.

“It’s a beautiful home, and it has beautiful, mature trees,” Phillips said. “To tear the home down — to pave it over for a parking lot — would just be a complete loss for the community, for the cityscape, for the character of the street. It wouldn’t benefit the community in any way.”

Paul Kolpak, the attorney for the church, said he feels the project does hold benefits for the neighborhood. He said the “consistent” growth of the church has led to congregants parking on main and side streets, and the parking lot expansion aims to combat this congestion.

“We’re not going to have x-number of cars parking in the neighborhood, perhaps in front of people’s homes,” Kolpak said. “There will be parking so that, during services, it will lessen the amount of cars that are forced to park on public streets.”

Kolpak said the church’s neighborhood location made it more difficult to form alternative plans for the parking lot besides demolition of the historic home. 

“When you look at where the church is located, the only way to expand is to acquire properties to produce parking,” Kolpak said.

Phillips said he believes the church has another plausible option for overflow parking in the form of Eugene Field Elementary School. The school is located about two blocks away from church, and the church puts out signage to instruct the congregants to park at the school when the main lot is full.

“Their congregants park at the school and they walk over,” Phillips said. “It doesn’t seem like a big deal. They also have a shuttle bus that runs back and forth if folks aren’t able to walk.”

Rick Schmitz, who lives next door to the 1905 home, said he believes the church can gain more parking space by tearing down the garage in their current parking lot.

“One quarter of the parking lot is a garage that they built for their service storage,” Schmitz said. “So why would we let them have another parking lot? Tear down their garage, then, if they want to tear something down and get five more spaces.”

Schmitz is also a general contractor and said the house could be restored if given the chance.

“The structure of the house is in excellent condition, but it’s been neglected for at least eight or 10 years,” Schmitz said, “The house has basically been demoralized but could be returned easily, because it has the original stained glass windows still in.”

Alderwoman Hadden held a community Zoom meeting on Sept. 26 to evaluate the zoning change request for the parking lot. 

“The church doesn’t need permission or any approval to demolish the existing home,” Hadden said during the meeting. “The decision point here is not about whether the house should be demolished or not — the decision will be about the zoning change that will get them closer to their goal of the parking lot.”

Bishop Mar Paulus Benjamin from the church said the church has faced significant parking issues for over 40 years.

Kyle Ryan, the 49th Ward manager of economic development, said the parking expansion requires a zoning change from a Residential Single-Unit District (RS-2) to Residential Two-Flat, Townhouse and Multi-Unit (RT-4).

At the meeting, Lauren DeAngelis, a civil analyst at Kimley-Horn, shared the visual plan for the parking lot expansion. The proposal included landscape islands and a continued utilization of the existing access point on West Touhy Avenue.

During the meeting, community members raised concerns regarding environmental issues and fears of continued congestion despite the expansion.

In response to worries about increased flooding in the area, Hadden said the 49th Ward requires drainage for parking lots and invests in technology beyond the basics.

“We have features that go beyond what the city requires,” Hadden said. “Beyond the basic drainage pieces, we do look to a lot of permeable pavement and greener, sustainable solutions.”

Many community members expressed concerns of parking as an induced demand — the more parking spots, the more cars until the space is, again, not enough. 

Members of the church said the proposed parking spots are for current members and they don’t expect to see an overflow.

Hadden said she will take the community input into consideration and aims to find an agreeable middle ground.

Rose Salazar, a representative for Chicago Public Schools, said the elementary school would be willing to coordinate parking with the church.

“We would help the church out by letting them use our parking lot for special events and also for their Sunday services,” Salazar said. “We would work out schedules sometimes up to six months in advance just to make sure that the parishioners would have parking for these events.”

Several members of the Rogers Park community are currently collecting petition signatures — both online and in-person — and flyering the neighborhood in protest. Phillips said the petitions are informal, created to show the level of support from the community on this issue. He said over 220 people have added their names.

Featured image by Aidan Cahill / The Phoenix

Catherine Meyer

Catherine Meyer