After months of planning, the Historic Preservation Committee presented a first draft of their proposed historic preservation ordinance for the village council’s review on June 13.
True to their word, the committee drafted a voluntary ordinance in which historic buildings or landmark districts are designated as such only after a nomination process that would require the owner’s consent. The owner and the village also have the option to withdraw the historic status.
If approved as written, the ordinance would establish landmark districts, in which 51 percent of the owners of any given area could vote to establish their area as a historic district before it would be designated as such.
“The ordinance is drafted as promised as a non-mandatory ordinance,” said Paul Barbahen, the Historic Preservation Committee chairman. “We did include historic preservation districts [because they] told us if we were going to be a Certified Local Government (CLG) town, we had to make changes.”
The CLG status, he explained is a critical component in obtaining grant money for homeowners who wish to preserve their historic residencies, but lack the financial support to do so.
According to the committee’s survey of historic houses in the village, however, only a small portion of the town will be affected by the ordinance.
“Some of the oldest houses in town have been rehabbed beyond recognition and wouldn’t qualify,” Barbahen said.
“It seems like north of the Expressway is most significantly impacted by this and even [then] only a small part,” said Commissioner Patrick Doolin.
In addition, Commissioner Timothy Gillian added, given the 51 percent agreement required for landmark or historic district status for any geographic section of town, “the chances of 50 percent of a four block radius being involved would be unusual. The fear shouldn’t be that big sections of town are going to get all of a sudden [a] historic district.”
In fact, according to committee member Rich Vitton, the only area he could potentially identify as, possibly, qualifying for historic district status is the area on Marengo Avenue, near Jackson Street.
In order to obtain historic status, structures would be nominated by the owner of the property, the village or at least 25 percent of the property owners within a proposed landmark district area.
The main goal of the proposed ordinance is two-fold: First, to preserve historic residences in Forest Park and, second, to secure grant money to help homeowners who choose to preserve their older homes and remodel them staying true to the house’s exterior architectural heritage.
The ordinance would also create the Historic Preservation Commission that would review all requests for historic or landmark status, as well as any modifications, alterations, changes or remodeling done to the exterior of the historic homes. In addition, the commission would establish a set of design guidelines that would become the village’s “standards of appropriate activity that will preserve the historic and architectural character of a structure or area.”
The commission would be comprised of seven members, appointed by the mayor, and would also be tasked with conducting a survey of all buildings, sites, areas and structures in town in order to identify those with historic significance as well as to maintain and update said register.
Additional duties would include “educat[ing] residents of the village concerning the historic and architectural heritage of the village by publishing appropriate maps, newsletters, brochures and pamphlets and holding programs and seminars,” the ordinance reads.
According to the proposed ordinance, its goal is also to “foster civic pride in the beauty and accomplishments of the past as represented in the village’s landmarks; [to] protect and enhance the village’s attractiveness to residents, businesses, visitors and prospective homebuyers; [and to] maintain and improve property values in the Village.”
If an area is designated as a historic district, Barbahen explained, that “means all properties in the neighborhood are of historic value, this provides stability.”
In essence, he said, the impact on property values is that it prevents teardowns of historic properties and their replacement with structures that are too big or that do not fit in with the surrounding structures.
The ordinance, Barbahen stressed, would only affect the exterior of the homes and would not have any control over the interior rehab of the houses in question.
According to the ordinance, the landmark or historic districts that “may contain, within definable geographic boundaries, one or more landmarks and which may have within its boundaries more structures, buildings or sites that, while not of such historic or architectural significance to be designated as landmarks, nevertheless contribute to the overall visual characteristics of the landmark or landmarks located within the historic district.”
In essence, any area with structures that are of significant historic or aesthetic value to the village, state or country, or with structures that are closely identified with a person who “significantly contributed to the development” of the village, state or country can apply for landmark district status.
Areas containing structures that are “the only known example of work by a master builder,” for example, can be designated as landmark districts, the proposed ordinance states.
The proposal, Gillian noted, is the result of months of hard work by the committee who conducted a preliminary and extensive survey of the buildings in the area and who met on numerous occasions with state and local preservation agencies, even traveling to Springfield to secure approval of the ordinance and to ensure it would meet all requirements to secure grants for the historic homeowners.