Home » History/Preservation »North City »Planning & Design » Currently Reading:

New Homes Proposed for 10 year-old Foundations

At Monday’s Preservation Board meeting I learned of yet another unfinished housing project on the city’s northside. Two basments, poured in 1996, remain unfinished. Until recently, they were unfenced and a potential hazzard. The city owns the property, located at 3928-32 N 25th.


A developer is seeking to build new two-story houses on the two foundations. When I first heard that in the meeting I thought that was a smart idea, reuse and all that.

The two houses that were finished in the 1990s were, uh, a little less than ideal:


Maybe at the time they were going for a historic look?


The above house with the little dormer is one of my favorites in this city, located just down the street from the above site. When I get a free moment, I will try to find a picture I took of it back around 1990-91. The house to the left is being rehabbed. In fact, many of the original buildings the alderman has not had razed are being rehabbed.


Two blocks to the east these new homes are getting finished, part of Bolsey Estates (named after the Alderman, of course). I wonder if we will ever have Villa’s Villas? Anyway, the developer seeking to build on the two foundations used these as examples of what they want to build. The Preservation Board withheld their preliminary approval, asking the developer to work with the Cultural Resources staff to improve the appearance given that the properties are located in a historic district. The Preservtation Board previously approved the above designs for Bosley Estates on 22nd street.


While I like reusing existing items I don’t believe we should keep these foundations. The entire premise of this 1990s project is off — the houses are set back way too far from the street which changes the character of the urban area too much. The foundations also seem low relative to the grade, potentially causing future water issues. They also have 1-car garages which might be OK for a small house but a larger 2-story place should probably have a two car garage (which can hold one car and many scooters/bicycles nicely).

The other issue is the spacing — these houses are very far apart. Many new suburban houses aren’t this far apart. Each lot is 52-53ft wide, per city records (by 128ft deep). This total. area should have 6-8 single family homes, possibly more total units if you did a denser project at the corner or perhaps a townhome development. The two houses are finished and occupied so no point in messing with those now but given the 100+ feet of land between the finished houses and the old meat company to the south (awesome building, btw) it would be easy to get 3 detached houses or 3-4 row houses. The existence of these foundations should not lock us into this bad idea from 10 years ago.

For more on this story see Michael Allen’s post on Ecology of Absence. To view the Cultural Resources report on this project, click here.


Currently there are "9 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jim Zavist says:

    If someone’s willing to do it, lets get two more lots off the city’s too-big list of vacant and abandoned properties. I agree that the odds of them winning a beauty contest are very slim, but if they’re affordable and occupied, it beats the presnt alternative of vacant and unsafe!

  2. creative says:


    Nice try, but you don’t get it. The role of the urban critic is to shoot down others’ ideas, tell them what they should be doing with their money, blame them for unsuccessful projects, all the while taking no risk themselves.

    Understanding the costs, market, history, local conditions, and financial challenges seldom enter the narrative.

    Getting other urban critics to pile on the criticism makes the exercise a mutual admiration society extravaganza!

  3. ^
    You obviously don’t know the story of Steve’s own building and his efforts to rehabilitate it. Talk about taking a risk in development with his own money! The same could be said about other urban design critics locally. In fact, many of our most vocal critics all practitioners of building-related professions — a blessing other cities don’t necessarily have.

    But that’s a diversion — Steve and I are writing about a matter that is governed by *law*. The local district ordinances are law, and their interpretation by a legal commission (the Preservation Board) a public matter. What a shame it would be if those legal matters passed unremarked upon by critics, as they did for so many years when there was little interest in quality city development.

  4. public space says:

    Improving one’s primary residence hardly qualifies as real estate development. It’s usually done as an effort to enrich one’s own financial position versus paying for retail, ready-to-occupy owner housing. On the other hand, developing property to meet a market, covering significant out of pocket predevelopment costs including site acquisition, obtaining hard-to-secure construction financing, meeting personal guarantees, and finally generating rents or sales to achieve a net income are a much different matter.

  5. Jim Zavist says:

    At least here the process seems to be working – the proposed design is being looked at again and refined and small steps toward progress are occurring – a good thing. Hopefully, it’s a harbinger of other small steps.

  6. valet says:

    It might be an interesting exercise to start a clock beginning with yesterday’s Preservation Board meeting to see how long it takes between now and the issuing of a building permit (or the death of the project by Committee).

    Anyone care to make a prediction? What’s the over/under on six months?

    [SLP — The problem is the proposed buildings do not meet the guidelines — basically too few windows.  In other areas builders have been allowed to have vinyl siding on the sides as long as the buildings are close enough together so you don’t really get full view of the sides.  Here though, the sides are fully exposed which is part of the reason why the two finished houses have brick sides.

    From an economic viewpoint, I would think it would be more feasible to rip out the foundations and build three houses than retain old foundations w/one-car garages and build only two.  I’d like to see the math in a spreadsheet to see which way made more financial sense — I already know which makes more urban sense.]  

  7. Jim Zavist says:

    Steve – In many ways you are right, especially looking at the bigger picture. I’m guessing it boils down to two issues, vision and how much money the owner/”developer” can borrow. There are a lot of people out there that can’t visualize anything other than what’s right in front of them and there are a lot of people who focus on false economies – sometimes, if you’re willing to spend a little bit more, your return over the long haul will be (much) greater. My guess is that it’s simply an economic issue – this will be a pay-as-you-go project, with one building being completed and sold to pay for the second, and that the existing foundations, even with their limited value in the bigger scheme of things, are the tipping point on whether or not this “project” gets financed (or started) at all. That said, I despise vinyl siding, especially the generic, low-end product and detailing that seems to be the standard around here, so there is obvious merit in having some sort of design review occurring.

    It’s a tough call – do we continue to accept substandard design soultions in the name of progress and repopulating the city? Or, do we continue to sit back with a large inventory of city-owned derelict properties (that we citizens are paying to maintain at a minimum level) and wait and hope for “something better”? I don’t have an answer on this one . . .

  8. county says:


    You’re forgetting one key ingredient: the city. The city can subsidize the project to cover the cost of brick facades, removing old foundations, re-engineering the lots, upgrading the quality of construction, providing tax abatement, writing down the acquisition cost; you name it. Another question then is, how much assistance should be provided on this project in order to please the urban critics?

    [SLP – LOL, I believe the plan is to subsidize the project anyway just as they did 10 years ago.  My feeling is if we taxpayers are going to subsidize projects we have the right to at least question the design process.  We are talking the sale of city-owned land and subsidized construction.  Besides, without critics around we’d probably be getting two more of the horrible 1996 houses.  

    I love how critics of urban critics try to make it out that the only ones that should have a voice are those putting cash into a project.  Hell, even developers have very little of their own money in a project — most are heavily financed.  Sure, there is risk of the project failing but that will be the responsibility of the firm principal, not the underlings.  I’ve spent my entire life in and around the construction business so I certainly understand the idea of making a profit.  I also understand that many experts can get stuck in a rut and not even consider alternatives that are obvious to critics that are more open to at least exploring other ideas on paper.]

  9. motherofbun says:


    It was interesting listening to you at the panel the other night. I had planned to introduce myself but got lost in talking with some other bloggers, so “hi.” 🙂

    And as for this post, at first as I read, I thought, “cool idea to reuse the basements” but as you were describing the area? Yes. I’m with you on this one.

    Take care,



Comment on this Article: