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Landmark Commission approves demolition of former West Campus grocery store

Tuesday, May 26, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

A two-story brick building at 601 W. 26th St. that has been around since 1890 may soon be replaced by high-rise student housing.

Since the original building was altered in the 1950s in a way that has compromised its historical integrity, the Historic Landmark Commission determined it did not meet the criteria for designation as a landmark. Commissioners voted 6-1 at their May 18 meeting to recommend the issue of a demolition permit. Commissioner Terri Myers voted in opposition.

Residents and fans of the building argued that the site is a well-known and well-loved landmark in the neighborhood. To bring attention to the building’s history in West Campus, Taylor McIntyre launched a petition to preserve the structure, which served as a food store from 1890-1954. As of May 18, the petition had 500 signatures.

Other nearby residents expressed their opposition to demolition, saying that the historic structure offers character to the neighborhood and that building a new high-rise will compound the traffic issues that are already apparent in the neighborhood.

“The community value of letting this one go is going to be real,” Commissioner Witt Featherston said.

Despite significant community support for preserving the old grocery store, Commissioner Kelly Little pointed out that the modifications to the first floor of the building prevent it from earning historic status. Other commissioners expressed dismay at being unable to advance the case for this building.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky said he was unable to locate any images of what the commercial storefront looked like before it became residential housing.

The 19th-century structure served for many years as a dry grocer and food store until it was converted into four apartments in the middle of the last century. However, in the last 70 years, West Campus has continued to grow around the building. To keep up with the demand for housing in the area, the owners of the property are proposing to construct a new residence with 22 affordable housing units on-site.

“From an affordability standpoint we see this as a positive for the community and for the area,” said Scott Burns of Lincoln Ventures, who was representing the applicant on this case. He said there will be a total of 80 beds in the building.

McIntyre, who has lived in the building for three years, said the rent is “far lower” than other nearby options, which allowed her and her roommate to live near campus.

In backup for the case, staff noted the units exceed “the 2019 affordable rent figure.”

Even with significant community opposition, the commission made a “reluctant” motion to recommend the demolition of the building. Commissioners Mathew Jacob, Kevin Koch, Alex Papavasiliou, and Blake Tollett were absent from the discussion.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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