By Kevin Kelley
A plan by developer Maynard Oster to demolish a historic home on West 220th Street and build two new houses on the property has drawn criticism by neighbors and spurred efforts by the Fairview Park Historical Society to save the structure.
Located at 5167 W. 220th St., the original section of the house was built by Benjamin Spencer in 1831. Oster purchased the property this spring and plans to split the property in two, in order to construct two new houses there.
Oster’s request for the lot split was unanimously approved by the city’s Planning & Design Commission July 16. But before the members voted, several neighboring residents spoke out against the developer’s plans.
Several residents of Overlook Drive expressed fears that the construction of new houses might cause their basements to flood, although they acknowledged flooding has not been a problem on their street.
Other residents, including Thomas Kowalski, opined that the smaller of the lots Oster plans to build on was too small for a house.
“To me, it would downgrade the neighborhood and the street immensely,” said Kowalski, who also called the smaller of the two lots to be created “dinky.” “I would not like to see this go forward. I’d like to see it stopped right now. I don’t care how much money this guy wants to make. I don’t know him from Adam. This is not fair to the rest of us people in that neighborhood.”
As Kowalski left the microphone, he turned to Oster, who was nearby, and said, “Sorry, buddy.”
Commission Chairman Chet Sadonick and assistant law Director Bill McGinty noted both lots created by the split were larger than many surrounding lots containing houses.
Sadonick noted several times that the lot split was the only issue before the commission. He also said the body does not have the jurisdiction to address many of the concerns residents raised at the meeting.
“We cannot tell him (Oster) he can’t use the property the way he wants if he follows the laws of Fairview Park,” Sadonick said.
Sadonick did express regret that such a historic structure will be demolished.
Fairview Park Historical Society President Chris Gerrett asked Oster if he would allow the organization to have the structure if it could be relocated, and Oster agreed to the request. The commision’s approval of the lot split prohibited Oster from demolishing the house for two months to give the historical society the opportunity to save it. The house must either be removed or demolished by Dec. 16 for the lot split to take effect legally.
Gerrett acknowledged she has no idea how much the relocation of the house would cost, or to where it would be moved.
The historical society’s board of directors has a meeting scheduled July 23 to discuss the feasibility of the proposed relocation. Gerrett said the historical society would like to utilize the house as a museum.
The house was owned by a bank before Oster purchased it, he said. Oster told the commission nobody had contacted him about saving the house before the July 16 meeting. He said the house was in poor condition.
The house was previously owned by Gwen Moore, who died in March 2013 at age 84. Longtime historical society members Leah Trainer told West Life that Moore approached the organization about purchasing the home in the early 2000s. Trainer said the group lacked the funds to purchase it and also concluded the house wasn’t large enough for its purposes.