One of the prettiest blocks in Hyde Park is the 5600 block of South Blackstone Ave. A mix of apartments, large frame houses, quaint rowhouses, and even the some of the nicer I. M. Pei urban renewal specials, this block represents the best of Hyde Park. There is one problem, though. On the west side of the street near 57th is an abandoned and vandalized church. This church is referred to in the neighborhood by the name of its last congregation -- the St. Stephen's Church. It was built at the turn of the 20th century as a Christian Science Church.
In the late 1990s, the St. Stephen's congregation had difficulty paying its bills and sold the church to Konstantinos D. Antoniou who was interested in developing the property. Shrieks of concern were heard from local activists who worried that the church would be torn down. Not to worry, said Mr. Antoniou, I will keep the facade and build condos behind it.
No one asked if the church was in character with the rest of the block that grew up around it (it predates the condos to the south and the row houses directly to the North). Today, this church sits like a fat toad, overwhelming the buildings to the North and South
Why should the developer talk turkey with some of the building's neighbors? It turns out that, according to current zoning law, the developer would have to get a zoning variance to build anything more than 4 stories high. He decided that he wanted to build a luxury condo building that would rise to the height of the current structure (the dome is about 76 ft high). This is more like an 8 story building not a 4 story building. The need for a zoning variance gave the neighbors some bargaining power. They thought - we don't really mind a tall building, we just want it done right and with tons of parking.