After listening to an update from Paul Barbahem, chair of the Forest Park Historic Preservation Committee, village council members instructed Barbahem to begin drafting proposed preservation ordinances and report back to the council.
The ordinance, Barbahem said “is necessary to keep the streets from becoming a horrible mix.”
A case in point, said Commissioner Timothy Gillian, is the oldest house in Forest Park, which dates to 1867.
The house, committee members said, has been renovated to the point where you can no longer tell it is so old.
With this and other such cases in mind, the committee, Barbahem said, has been meeting since October conducting research into the value of a historic preservation ordinance for the village and surveying residential properties, their condition and age.
The committee, he said, would propose an incentive-based, voluntary ordinance that would target only those residences north of Jackson Boulevard and built prior to 1920 with the intent of keeping the historic character of the homes and the nature of the neighborhoods they are in.
“Properties not inside the original survey could also get covered if they apply,” Barbahem said.
“If an ordinance were put in place, it would be voluntary,” Gillian said. “We are looking to put in another layer to see if we can make things more closely resemble their neighborhoods.”
The homes, Barbahem said, would have to qualify on a house-by-house basis to be covered under the ordinance and would have to consent to be covered.
“On the upside, if they want to do work they could get public money,” Barbahem said. “But if they are going for the public money, they would have to abide by the guidelines.”
Some examples of these guidelines are height limitations on streets where two-flats are the norm or prohibitions on tearing off porches on Victorian homes.
In order to obtain the public funding, Barbahem said, the village would have to apply to become a certified local government, create a review board, and be certified through the Historic Preservation Society of the U.S. government. In addition, members of the review board would have to submit their names to the state for approval.
The homeowners would have to submit to the ordinance, apply to the review board and agree to the standard guidelines which aim at returning homes to their original look.
The grant money, however can be used to renovate an entire home or portions of a home, as long as any changes comply with the intent of the standard guidelines.
When questioned regarding the voluntary nature of the proposal, Gillian said the town is not ready for a mandatory ordinance.
“We’re going to try to do something that offers an incentive to try to preserve the historical value,” he said.
The council could, however, decide to “put a lot more teeth to it” at a later date, Gillian said.
Barbahem told council members that many neighboring towns have the ordinances in place, and all have been happy with the results.
He cautioned members that, while other towns have the ordinances, they often fail to take the second step to become a certified local government.
He urged the council to consider not only drafting the ordinance, but also to take the second step and get the grant money.
“We can make suggestions but the final decision depends on the council,” Barbahem said.
• The oldest house in Forest Park dates back to 1867 and is located near the corner of Elgin Avenue and Washington Street
• At some point, Ernest Hemmingway’s father practiced medicine in Forest Park. His office would have been on 501 Madison St., at the old bank building, right above Two Fish Studios
• Most people believe Forest Park dates back to the 1850s, in truth, there are records dating the town back to the 1840s.
” compiled by Rich Vitton