A North Side family received some welcome holiday tidings on Friday with a city decision in favor of their plan to renovate a historic Old Town Triangle neighborhood home to accommodate their daughter and her wheelchair.
The unanimous decision by the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals was a key win for the Deakin family in a months-long battle over the vehement objections of neighbors in the Old Town Triangle Association, who argue the plan for a two-car garage on Lincoln Park West harms the architectural character of the ritzy enclave.
“We’re so relieved, and it’s a bit emotional,” Bill Deakin said on Saturday. “We’re very appreciative of the great support we’ve gotten.
“It’s a fantastic gift to this family, and one that we’ll be grateful for for many years to come.”
Amy Kurson, attorney for the neighborhood association, said they were still mulling their potential next steps.
“I think the issues were more complicated than just providing access for a person in a wheelchair. But their argument was definitely sympathetic,” Kurson said.
Deakin and wife Lisa Diehlmann bought the home in the 1800 block of North Lincoln three years ago and began rehabbing it to make it accessible for their now-13-year-old daughter Ava, who uses a wheelchair due to a degenerative condition.
Key to their rehab plan was an attached two-car garage with a ramp and an elevator, that would face out onto Lincoln Park West and allow their daughter to avoid wheeling through snowy walkways.
That drew the ire of Old Town Triangle Association president Steve Weiss, who, in a letter to Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), questioned the family’s decision to “buy a house in a Landmark Zone when you have these needs.
“I don’t mean to be heartless or uncaring, but this is not the neighborhood for that,” Weiss wrote.
The bitter dispute came to a head Friday night with a marathon hearing at City Hall where both sides made their cases for several hours before the Zoning Board of Appeals.
About 40 of Ava’s classmates from the University of Chicago Lab School showed up at the meeting in solidarity with the family.
“It was an amazing show of support,” Bill Deakin said.
Kurson rejected claims that the neighborhood association was discriminating against a person with a disability.
“This was a disagreement about building design,” Kurson said. “No one is saying she shouldn’t be accommodated — the accommodations should be different.”
The family faces one more formal hurdle before their renovation can begin in earnest: the city Landmarks Commission will vote on a final approval Jan. 10.
Staffers from the commission have already drafted a recommendation in favor of the plan, but Deakin said “if we’ve learned anything in this process, it’s that we’re not counting our chickens just yet.”