by Michael R. Allen
Last night, the Preservation Board voted 3-2 to grant preliminary approval of a surface parking lot and demolition of the San Luis Apartments (formerly the DeVille Motor Hotel). I’m on my way out of town today so I will offer thoughts when I return. For now, I should point out that five out of nine Preservation Board members were present, while 20 citizens testified against demolition. While this ration is unusual, it shows the discrepancy between citizen interest and Preservation Board member interest in one of biggest urban design matters this year.
Alderwoman Lyda Krewson (D-28th) tipped the balance by coming out in favor of approval at the end of the meeting. Her remarks were a roller coaster ride of what side she would take, but when she came back to the issue of Archdiocese parking needs (politically germane, but beyond the legal scope of the ordinances governing Preservation Board action) hearts sank. Frankly, she might have done better for herself had she not spoken at all instead of aligning herself with the surface lot plan that even she admits is not appropriate for that corner.
While my colleagues will be writing about the DeVille over the next few days, I want to point out that another demolition was approved by the Preservation Board yesterday in a questionable manner. When I arrived at the Board meeting, I found preliminary review of the demolition of the commercial building at 3501-9 North Grand Avenue was on the agenda. This matter did not appear on the agenda posted online a week before the meeting, nor did it appear in any special notice sent within 24 hours of the start of the meeting.
The public, including residents of the area around the building (intersection of Grand and Hebert), would never have known this matter was on the Board agenda. Most people probably still don’t.
Alderman Freeman Bosley, Sr. (D-3rd), often a preservation-minded alderman, had the item placed on the agenda and was the official applicant. However, building owner Darryl Mitchell appeared to announce that he had already applied for a demolition permit and that he was the applicant. The Preservation Board changed the record to reflect this testimony, which may or may not be allowed under Preservation Board procedures.
Perhaps this matter is irrelevant given that the Board granted preliminary approval 4-0 and only two people from an audience of more than 40 testified, but I think the procedure followed was wrong. If an actual demolition permit was on the table, then it cannot be considered as a preliminary review. The Cultural Resources Office staff had not reviewed the permit yet, so the matter certainly was not an appeal.
Since this was a preliminary review, the Board can bring the matter back and give the demolition permit its appropriately-announced legal hearing. I hope that the Board does so.