New owners of long-abandoned Kedzie house request annexation

The home formerly owned by NBA forward Ken Norman is
now stained, decayed and in need of great repair.

(Photos by Carole Sharwarko/H-F Chronicle)
 
After more than a decade of abandonment and decay, the eyesore structure that once stood as a gem — albeit a strange one — in the heart of the Homewood-Flossmoor area finally could be bound for destruction.
 
On Wednesday, the new owners of the home once owned by NBA forward Ken Norman at 19020 Kedzie Ave. filed a petition requesting the 88,000-square-foot piece of property be annexed into the Village of Flossmoor. There will be a public hearing on Oct. 17, when members of the village plan commission will consider the annexation request.
 
Though its neighboring properties fall within Flossmoor’s borders, the plot of land is currently classified as unincorporated Cook County. 
 
The owners, an investment group based out of Frankfort called For His Glory LLC, purchased the property in September 2018. Since then, little has been done to remediate the issues that plague the site.
 
Communicating via email, For His Glory spokesman Randy Pertler said the group is made up of “partners of very modest resources” who invest in flipping single-family homes in the Chicagoland area.
 
“After long consideration and prayer, we have submitted an application to have the property annexed from unincorporated Cook County to the Village of Flossmoor,” Pertler said via email. 
 
However, Flossmoor Village Manager Bridget Wachtel said the municipality informed Pertler that its officials will only consider the property becoming part of Flossmoor if the demolition of the existing structure is a condition of annexation.
 
'That weird house on Kedzie' 
Jutting up between the CVS Pharmacy store and Coyote Run Golf Course, you almost miss the peculiar house on Kedzie Avenue and its drab gray, outdated cubist architectural style.

As you look further, you notice plywood tacked over windows and a crumbling exterior exposing the home’s bones. Then you see overgrown landscaping littered with garbage, weeds creeping up to an iron gate secured with a rusty padlock.

  Behind the home sits a
  dilapidated storage shed,
  its contents visible from
  Coyote Run Golf Course.

 

The house decays beside H-F Park District's meticulously maintained 18-hole golf course. Its crumbling second-floor stucco façade looms over the award-winning H-F High School, directly across Kedzie Avenue.

Ken Norman, the NBA forward who bought the property in 1989 and used to drive around town in a go-kart, left the house sometime in the early 2000s. Now long gone, Norman is no longer in the spotlight. Instead, his abandoned home is now the star of the show.
 
“I grew up in the area and I remember when it was built,” said Scott Bugner, inspectional services administrator for the Village of Flossmoor. “It was beautiful, a real point of pride for the community.”
 
Now, from his vantage overseeing the village’s properties and buildings, Bugner sees the house as a black eye and a “blemish on the community.” He receives complaints regularly about the state of the house’s dilapidated exterior. 
 
Photos online taken by intrepid hunters of abandoned houses show the equally unusual interior with apparent flood damage. The home is not tied into Flossmoor’s water or sewer systems.
 
Because of the property’s unincorporated status, Bugner said Flossmoor cannot issue citations against the owners for the type of neglect violations that normally would be subject to village ordinances.
 
Bugner said he relays the complaints he receives to the Cook County Building and Zoning Department. 
 
For its part, a spokeswoman at that department said unincorporated properties within Cook County don’t receive annual inspections, and it’s not uncommon for only the exterior of a property to be inspected.
 
Records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show the property was last inspected in November 2017, when violations were noted for the property being “open and unsecure” because the front gate wasn’t locked; for the owner having “junk and debris on the property;” and for violation of Cook County’s Vacant Building Ordinance by failing to register the property as vacant.
 
New owner inspires hope of renovation
The violations from the property’s 2017 inspection have since been cleared, and in fall 2018 Bugner was intrigued to see activity at the house. The gate was open and Bugner noticed workers cutting down trees and organizing brush piles. 

  A wall of vegetation has
  sprouted up around the home.

 

 
Workers at the site told him the new owner was planning to renovate the home, something that Bugner said surprised him.
  
For His Glory LLC purchased the property in September 2018 with the intent of continuing its use as a residential property, possibly renting it for weddings and special events, Pertler said.
 
“We purchased this property on one of the national auction websites. They didn't allow us to conduct an inspection on the property,” Pertler said via email. 
 
“Therefore, we took a calculated risk in moving forward with the purchase once our offer was accepted. We really thought that we could flip or short-term rent the property for a profit.”
 
Once Pertler saw the state of the house and its extensive damage, along with what he calls “ongoing vandalism,” he and his partners have determined the house is no longer viable, and are now pursuing commercial options for the property. 
 
While it could be an attractive location for a retail outlet or restaurant, the property is currently zoned for residential use. Rezoning it for commercial use would entail a lengthy bureaucratic process, one that would involve the Cook County Building and Zoning Board and the Village of Flossmoor. 
 
“Our first choice is to remove the existing structure and construct a mixed-use building with retail stores/restaurants on the ground level and residential above,” Pertler said via email. 
 
“The retail stores/restaurants would benefit from the traffic on Kedzie Ave. and the high school across the street. Additionally, the apartments would enjoy the beautiful views of the golf course.”
 
However, Pertler added that a Flossmoor official indicated the village would prefer the property be zoned solely for commercial use, without residential aspects.
 
And, then, there’s the requirement that Pertler and partners demolish the house before it can be annexed into Flossmoor — and before any zoning changes could happen.
 
“The best thing to happen to that property is to demolish the house,” Bugner said. 
 
It’s not clear when a demolition will happen, however. Pertler said he and his partners are “exploring options” to secure financing or raise capital to develop the site.
 
Exploring other possible outcomes
In the meantime, Flossmoor will consider the petition for annexation. 
 
Bugner will forward along the complaints it gets to the Cook County Building and Zoning Board, the ultimate authority over the property. 
 
Residents will continue to look at the house and wonder when someone will be done about it.
 
Flossmoor resident Robert Rose said he has offered some consultation to village officials as a local resident with extensive knowledge of real estate and vacant properties.
 
Rose is also President of Cook County Land Bank, an organization that works to acquire vacant and abandoned properties within the county, clear their titles and return them to the active real estate pool at below-market price. 
  Many windows at the house
  have been boarded up for
  months, one aspect that is a
  violation of Cook County
  building code.

 

“This property is in a unique position. It has an owner, the taxes are current and they tried to start cleaning it up. The property isn’t falling down and doesn’t present an open and hazardous condition,” Rose said. 

For these reasons, the Land Bank does not have authority to obtain the property. If Pertler and his partners wanted to divest of the Kedzie house, Rose said, they could donate the property to the land bank.
 
“They could do that if they want to cut their losses,” Rose said. “The landbank would be able to acquire the property and work with the village to have it annexed and rezoned, and find a buyer for it.”
 
However, despite the obstacles they must overcome to return the property to viability, Pertler said For His Glory LLC isn’t positioned to simply walk away from it. Some of the group’s partners have directed funds from their retirement accounts into the house-flipping corporation, he said.
 
“My partners are not in a position to lose any money from their retirement accounts on this project. We are praying for a win-win plan for both the partners and the community,” Pertler said. “We are definitely open to all offers from potential buyers.”
 

From the neighbor’s point of view
Looking at the Kedzie Avenue house from the third tee at Coyote Run Golf Course, Dave Ward refers to the tangle of immature trees, flowers and brush as “the enchanted forest.”
  Dave Ward, superintendent
  of Coyote Run Golf Course,
  shows how close the unsightly
  abandoned house is to the
  beautiful grass near the
  course's third tee.

 

As superintendent of Coyote Run for 15 years, Ward remembers when “Kenny” kept the grounds of his home meticulously manicured. He talked to the NBA star regularly, giving him tips about landscaping and helping connect him with workers for his property. 

Then one day, without warning, Norman was gone and the house was quiet.
 
“It seemed like, within days, someone stole the air conditioning units,” Ward said. “And then the enchanted forest started to grow and shroud the house.”
 
After years of inactivity, there grew to be a wall of vegetation between the house’s north face and Coyote Run. During the summers, the great green barrier obscured the view of the house from golfers at the third tee. Then last year, workers removed the “enchanted forest.”
 
“It was amazing because over the course of five or six years, some of the pioneer trees that blew in got big,” Ward said. “It took a crew of four guys three to four weeks to cut it all down.”
 
The neglected house stands in stark contrast to the pristine, obsessed-over 140 acres of Coyote Run. However, with no activity, the forest is creeping back in to cover it once again. 
 
“It would be a natural for someone to donate it to the park district. It would fill out this whole corner here,” Ward said.
 

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