By Bob Uphues
Although the weather is beginning to warm up and spring is on the horizon, the bulldozers won't be rolling into Riverside Lawn to take down homes purchased by Cook County until sometime in May, according to Rob Rose, executive director of the Cook County Land Bank.
In an interview with the Landmark last week, Rose said the Cook County Land Bank has closed on 19 homes in the flood-prone, unincorporated area of Riverside Township, has three more homes under contract and has sent offer letters to four more property owners who have indicated they may be interested in selling.
"Four more stepped forward to reconsider who were non-responsive before," Rose said. "They've indicated an interest and we've forwarded them offer letters and supporting documents."
If all of those deals close, the county will have purchased most of the homes in Riverside Lawn, leaving just a handful closer to 39th Street and a few vacant lots in private hands.
The Cook County Land Bank and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago partnered to propose buying out homeowners in Riverside Lawn, much of which lies within a flood plain and was hit with a series of floods between 2008 and 2013.
Through the years, MWRD has studied ways to safeguard the homes, some of which are a century old. But plans, such as building a flood wall or levee, were deemed too expensive for the number of people protected from flooding.
In the end, county officials determined the best long-term solution was to convince property owners to sell their homes to the county to eliminate the problem. The homes purchased by the county will be demolished and ceded to the Cook County Forest Preserve District in perpetuity.
But before demolition begins, the county has enlisted the University of Illinois to conduct a survey of four homes on the north end of Riverside Lawn that have been deemed historic.
The university was chosen from a field of two organizations responding to a request for proposals from the Cook County Land Bank. The survey will involve both library research and field work, said Rose.
The four properties being looked at for the survey are 3742 Gladstone Ave. and 3744 Stanley Ave., both of which are among the oldest homes in Riverside Lawn. Also included will be 3748 Stanley Ave., a two-story home with a brick first story and a stucco half-timber second story that the Cook County Assessor lists as being 95 years old.
The fourth property, according to Rose, is 3743 Stanley Ave., a one-story brick home built in the 1940s that has been vacant for years.
Rose said the survey will include recommendations that could range from applying to National Register status and preserving the building at one end of the spectrum to preserving some elements or simply photographing and documenting the home prior to demolition.
The survey should be in the county's hands this spring. Rose said the county was aiming to begin demolishing houses in May.