City panel rejects appeal to block annex at Lincoln Park school

SHARE City panel rejects appeal to block annex at Lincoln Park school

An appeal that would have blocked a permit to build an annex at Lincoln Park Elementary was denied Friday by the city Zoning Board of Appeals after more than three hours of testimony.

With proponents on the left and opponents on the right inside City Hall Council Chambers, both sides presented their arguments about the annex that would help overcrowding, but take over space at the former Children’s Memorial Hospital. The new school building in the 600 block of West Kemper Place could cost as much as $20 million.

Attorney John Pikarski argued the annex will not fit in with the rest of the historic Mid-North District, and that the “setback” — the distance from the street to the building — is not consistent with the neighborhood.

City attorney William Aguilar argued there was no predominant setback standard in the neighborhood, and that city zoning inspectors accurately assessed the space.

After more than three hours of testimony, the board went into executive session for about 20 minutes before denying the appeal, along with other zoning cases brought before the board during a lengthy seven hour meeting.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) who had backed the annex since day one stayed for the entire hearing and said she’s pleased with the board’s decision.

“This will allow construction of the school to go forward and to preserve open space for the playground. We had a very big turnout

today for people who supported the annex…I hope this means that we can go forward.”

Michelle Villegas, a former Local School Council member at Lincoln, has been fighting the annex for more than two years and testified before the board. She said she always knew they’d lose the appeal.

“Since they are all political hacks we assumed that it’s not going to be in our favor and we assumed that since the beginning,” Villegas said. “We always thought we’d have to go to the next level in order to get any justice whatsoever.”

Villegas, along with other opponents, say that next step is a lawsuit blocking construction, which could start as soon as Monday.

The three-story annex will include 19 new classrooms, a new dining center with hybrid cooking kitchen, a rooftop area for students and upgrades mandated under the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to plans listed on the Public Building Commission’s website

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