Three long-vacant Forest Park houses that have been in legal limbo are on their way to either be sold or demolished, with the village recouping the thousands of dollars it spent trying to deal with them.
Director of Public Health and Safety Steve Glinke said that through various circumstances, each of the three buildings ended up vacant, to the frustration of both the neighbors and the village. But now, the end is in sight. The two-flat at 839 S. Harlem Ave will be demolished, and the homes at 7201 Adams St. and 7300 Harvard St. will go on the market, with the owners intending to sell them. Glinke said that the proceeds from the sales will be used to reimburse the village for maintenance and legal expenses it incurred in connection with the properties.
The new owners of the Adams and Harvard homes will be free to either rehab or demolish the buildings, but even if they go with demolition, they would have to replace them with buildings of similar height. The Harlem Avenue property is a different story. Under the zoning code, the property would have to be either mixed-use commercial/residential building or something purely commercial.
Glinke said that the issues with the Harlem Avenue property started when the property was purchased by a speculator “shortly after the housing bubble burst” in 2008.
“It was never improved,” he said. “I started writing tickets and I tracked the guy back to an address in Manhattan. This guy was not responding to legal notices, it was very frustrating before the bank took that back.’
Since then, Glinke said, the ownership changed two more times. The current owners, he said, “had some ambitious plans” for the property that never came to fruition.
“Their intention now is to take the building down and build new, in accordance with the zoning code,” Glinke said.
While most of the buildings on the block that face Harlem Avenue are residential, they are currently zoned as B-2 Community Shopping District. As the name suggests, the zoning is geared toward commercial uses, with residential uses only allowed for mixed-use buildings with commercial uses on the first floor. The zoning allows for a wide range of commercial uses, including bakeries, theaters, bars and restaurants. Auto repair shops are allowed only if the work happens entirely inside the building. Cannabis dispensaries are allowed as a conditional use – in other words, something that the village must approve on a case-by-case basis.
Glinke declined to comment on why the Harvard Street home had been vacant for the past three years, except that there were complex legal issues involving multiple jurisdictions. Now, he said, those matters have been resolved, and the owner is interested in selling it as soon as possible.
The Adams Street home belonged to the Karlin family for generations, but they eventually sold the property in 2019 to a company owned by a Chicago developer. This, Glinke said, was when the trouble started.
“This guy, I’ve been playing cat and mouse with him for years,” he said. “He ended up not paying years’ worth of taxes, he would start, he would stop, he wouldn’t respond to legal notices.”
The bank that gave the owner a mortgage, Wilmington Savings Fund Society bank, eventually moved to foreclose on the property, with the court ruling in its favor in August.
Glinke said that the property directly to the west of the building, which has also been vacant for years, “should be on the market soon.”
Commissioner of Health and Safety Ryan Nero, whose areas of responsibility include supervision of Glinke’s department, welcomed the news.
“The fewer nuisance properties and degraded properties, the better it is for all residents,” he said.
Glinke also said that he was happy to see the resolution because the three properties were a nuisance to the “extraordinary patient” neighbors and because the village spent money on maintenance services such as lawn care and boarding up windows, as well as various legal expenses.
“All those dollars will be reimbursed once the property resells,” Glinke said. “We make reimbursement to the village mandatory before we issue transfer stamps.”
He said that he was optimistic about the properties’ future.
“I think we’re going to see some substantial improvements in all three,” Glinke said.