More than 100 community members, most living in the block near Wrightwood and Kimball Avenues, came together on Tuesday evening, May 9, to share their thoughts on a plan to tear down part of Grace United Methodist Church (3325 W. Wrightwood Ave.). They met inside the building itself. The planned partial demolition would make room for a larger community center, as well as a five-story apartment complex with 20 percent affordable housing, according to a presentation at the meeting.
The meeting allowed those in favor and in opposition to hear each other’s voices. Neighbors, inside and outside the church community, presented facts and shared emotions.
Church leaders and members say they wish to preserve the building, which has up to $2 million in deferred maintenance. If nothing is done, the building will not last more than 10 years, according to Rev. Mark Schol, pastor of Grace Church since 2012. The congregation has been faced with a 106-year-old building with many structural issues, as well as a shrinking congregation over the years.
The May 9 meeting took place under a plan from 35th Ward Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa to bring every zoning change decision to community discussion before any further action. As community members walked inside that night, they were handed a sheet with space to write their comments and opinions on the development. All comments will be scanned by the alderman’s office and shared with the church leaders for consideration.
Aside from written comments, the community was invited to speak for 30 minutes on their reactions to the proposal. This discussion went over time by at least another 25 minutes, due to the public’s emotion and desire to speak on the topic.
While church leaders and members expressed strong agreement and a need to move forward with the development, many neighbors and community members expressed concern for the partial demolition of a historic building, as well as the density it might bring to the neighborhood. Worries over parking and “1st Ward gentrification” became topics of discussion.
As part of the zoning change proposal process outlined by Ramirez-Rosa, church leaders spoke with community groups such as the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Logan Square Preservation and SOMOS Logan Square. Members from all groups are to attend every zoning proposal meeting.
President of Logan Square Preservation of three years, Andrew Schneider, expressed the concern for the architectural preservation of the building. He has also created an online petition from which he read aloud at the meeting.
“I think that there’s some concern about the proposed height of the building,” Schneider said. “I think five stories tall is not something that should be taken lightly. I think people might take issue with the proposed density. You know, the church has some work to do. Our organization leads from architectural preservation, so we would like to see a general preservation solution and adaptive reuse rather than demolition.”
Church leaders argue that, without some form of newer development on the land, the building’s insecure structure won’t last more than 10 years. According to Schol, they plan to keep the historical look on the outside while rehabbing the inside — not demolishing the whole of the outside.
“I think this project has a potential to be a win-win-win for the neighborhood,” Schol said. “It can keep the historic look of the space. It can continue to be a community center for folks in the neighborhood as well as be a place of worship for a community that is continuing to grow in their faith.”
Lauren Phillips has been a member of Grace Church for three years and lives in the parsonage next door with her husband and two children. Phillips feels strongly about pushing forward with the proposal, as it affects the living space of her family.
“I do feel like it was productive, like everyone was heard which is always wonderful,” Phillips said. “I do feel like we now are aware of some concerns that maybe we weren’t, as a church community, aware of before. I think it’s also important for the community to understand that we are a congregation, and if we don’t make these changes, the church will fall apart. There will be nothing here.”
As any more decisions are made in the future, more community meetings will be held. While Grace Church wishes to move forward and survive, they hope to work with the community in doing what is best for them as well, according to Schol. Until more community feedback is given, Ramirez-Rosa will not offer a stance on the proposal.
“We want to engage with you,” Schol said. “We really see this as an opportunity for our entire community to come together, to preserve the essence that is Grace Church, to continue to have it for another 100 years…as we know more, we are going to invite folks back.”