The historic old Nichols Library has been in the news lately as a developer, Dwight Avram, is proposing to demolish it, rebuild the façade, incorporate the vestibule and floor, and build a four story, mixed-use building with retail, offices and condominiums. Truth Lutheran Church (“Truth Lutheran”) was the previous owner of the building, which it had purchased from the City of Naperville in April of 1996.
When the City sold the Nichols Library to Truth Lutheran, the deal included a covenant that requires future owners to preserve the building’s front façade and vestibule, including an intricate tile floor.
According to the developer,
"It is the intent of the builder to honor the spirit of the covenant attached to the deed which calls for maintaining the west façade and vestibule of the Old Library. As noted, as much as physically possible, the façade elements will be saved and replaced on the façade of the new building. Where materials are not salvageable, materials will be taken from elsewhere in the building or replaced” (emphasis added).
So covenants put in place by the City don’t have to be followed, just the “spirit” of them.
The sequence on the move of Truth Lutheran is interesting:
On June 20, 2016, the Planning and Zoning Commission (“PZC”) voted 5-0 to approve the new location of Truth Lutheran at 503 W. Bauer. Documents filed with PZC list the development name as Truth Lutheran Church. The applicant for the development was Great Central Properties III, LLC (“Great Central”), not the church. Great Central lists its manager as Dwight Avram, the developer now proposing the development of the old Nichols Library. The documents named Great Central as the “contract purchaser” of the land. The owner of the property was listed as BCT LLC.
On September 20, 2016, the City Council voted 8-0 to approve the rezoning, annexation and building of the new Truth Lutheran church at 503 W. Bauer.
In January, 2017 Great Central bought 503 W. Bauer, the future location of Truth Lutheran, from BCT LLC, for over $2.6 million.
On March 1, 2017, Great Central sold the 503 W. Bauer land to Truth Lutheran. Also on March 1, 2017 Truth Lutheran sold 110 S. Washington, the location of the old Nichols Library, to Great Central. It appears as if the properties were exchanged.
In early May, the developer announced plans for the development of the old Nichols Library.
So the developer wouldn’t acquire the land at 503 W. Bauer before City Council approval for the Truth Lutheran church, but didn’t see the need to obtain City Council approval for development of the old Nichols Library before the swap for that building. This despite the covenant in place which would seemingly prevent the proposed development. They must be confident of City Council approval.
Naperville does have the Mayor that featured the slogan ‘Find the Path to Yes’ for business in his first State of the City address.
Should a 119 year-old historic building with those covenants be an impediment on ‘The Path to Yes’? Apparently not.
Below are excerpts from an email the Mayor wrote in response to a resident’s email, later posted on the Facebook page of ‘Downtown Naperville – the way it used to be’:
“As you know both of these buildings are privately owned and as such, the owners ultimately should decide the fate of the buildings; while keeping the restriction in mind.” (The other building referenced is 41 W Jefferson, the Russell’s Dry Cleaners property.)
“I believe it is very reasonable for the owner to decide how to make this property a productive piece of property again while respecting the spirit of the restriction of the west elevation” (emphasis added).
So the Mayor believes a covenant which has been in place for over 20 years is now something to be ‘keeping… in mind’ and ‘respecting the spirit of’? The owner has property rights, absolutely. The property owner did, however, buy a 119 year old building with covenants to “retain, protect and maintain in its present condition in perpetuity” certain features of that building. Also, property rights don’t include any right to rezoning.
An application was recently filed for landmark status for the building. The Mayor was quoted by the Naperville Sun as saying
“It’s private property so I think it’s up to the property owner. If they sign onto it, I certainly will. If they don’t, then I likely won’t”.
June of 2016, Developer enters into a contract to acquire 503 W. Bauer for Truth Lutheran Church site.
September of 2016, City Council approves 503 W. Bauer for Truth Lutheran Church site.
January of 2017, Developer buys 503 W. Bauer, for over $2.6 million.
March of 2017, Developer swaps 503 W. Bauer for old Nichols library, then current home of Truth Lutheran Church. Old Nichols Library building has deed covenant restrictions in place to maintain façade and vestibule.
May of 2017, Developer announces plans to develop old Nichols Library site in violation of covenant restrictions, but will honor the “spirit” of the covenant restrictions.
May of 2017, the Mayor expresses belief that the owner should decide fate of old Nichols Library while “respecting the spirit” of the covenant restrictions.
June of 2017, Residents file application for landmark status of the Nichols Library building.
June of 2017, the Mayor expresses belief that Nichols Library is private property, so if landmark status ok with owner its "certainly" ok with him. If not, then “likely” not with him either.
Pretty clear who the Mayor is with on this one. He and the developer are even using the same term, the "spirit" of the covenant. Could that be why the developer spent over $2.6 million with no apparent concern for the existing covenants?