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Old house spared for Libertyville church expansion
By Mick Zawislak | Daily Herald Staff

The home at 212 W. Maple in Libertyville will be spared as part of the expansion project for the First Presbyterian Church.


Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

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Published: 4/15/2009 12:20 PM | Updated: 4/15/2009 5:51 PM

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A last-minute compromise crafted on the fly Tuesday night will allow a Libertyville church to expand but spare a 109-year-old home neighbors had mobilized to save.

The Libertyville village board informally agreed with plans and permits that will allow the First Presbyterian Church, 219 W. Maple Ave., to proceed with an ambitious project.

But a provision of the proposal that called for a church-owned home across the street at 212 W. Maple Ave. to be taken out for a parking lot was dropped.

The compromise was reached in separate breaks, first among village leaders and staff who made the suggestion, and then among church officials who accepted it. During both, an overflow crowd of neighborhood residents waited patiently. The board room was so full that at one point a resident asked the meeting be moved to a larger venue.

"That many people standing there clearly concerned about this issue is the reason Mayor (Jeff) Harger and trustees looked for an alternative," reasoned Todd McDermott, one of the organizers of the Saving Maple Neighborhood Group.

"I'm very happy with how they handled it."

Church officials didn't get all they originally wanted but said Wednesday that not having to demolish a home and build a parking lot will allow more money to be directed to modifications and an expansion that will result in about 73,528 square feet for classrooms, offices and other features.

Passages between previous additions also will be leveled to allow better access to the elderly and disabled. Because it was presented as a planned development to be completed in phases, rather than individual variations for each step, there was latitude for the village board to deal with parking requirements.

"We were being driven to act on that parking lot by virtue of the code. By not doing the parking lot, it frees up a lot of dollars ... to be applied to the primary purpose for which it was intended," Rev. Brian Paulson said Wednesday.

Technically, the village board Tuesday was voting to accept the report of the plan commission, which had concerns at a public hearing in December but recommended approval last month of a revised plan. Those changes scaled back the scope of the building expansion and took a second home proposed for demolition out of the mix.

The board is expected to vote on ordinances allowing the work to proceed in two weeks.

"Where we've ended up from our perspective is great. It meets the needs of the neighbors and meets our needs," said John Jepsen, a church elder and spokesman. "It worked out well for everybody."

Residents had argued the expansion would overwhelm the neighborhood and that the demolition would diminish the character of the area just south of downtown.

"I think we're feeling as a neighborhood group very good about it," said Michael Womack, a key organizer of the effort.

That four village board members are church members was called into question, though all denied any conflict. Generally, the attitude was that the church, which has been at that location since 1929 and has expanded in the past, was a vital part of the community.

"We have to allow them to renew themselves structurally to meet the needs of the community," said Trustee Nick Proepper, a church elder.

Church officials said they had gone out of their way to accommodate neighbors but residents disputed that saying the church has acquired and demolished many properties in the neighborhood over the years.

Trustee Barry Reszel said he didn't think tearing down 212 W. Maple would significantly change the character of the neighborhood but agreed there could be detrimental impacts in the future if other properties were to be razed.

"There is a call here for the church to be better neighbors," he said. "There needs to be communication there."