Members of Forest Park’s Historic Preservation Committee have decided to meet again to iron out some kinks in their case for a historic preservation ordinance before going before the village council with a presentation outlining the benefits of such an ordinance.
The ordinance, which was first given to the board June 27 and received a mixed reaction, would allow eligible residents to receive state and federal grants for the restoration of their homes. Similar ordinances are already in place in suburbs such as Blue Island and Hinsdale.
It would call for the formation of a village commission which would conduct surveys to determine areas that would be designated as historic districts, provide information to homeowners living in these districts, and develop guidelines for the alteration, demolition, construction, or removal of sites within historic districts.
One of the main concerns expressed at the committee’s August 4 meeting was that, unless the committee presents a clear and comprehensive explanation of the ordinance, residents might think committee members would “do all of the legwork” to help them get grant money from state and national agencies.
“Historic preservation commissions are not meant to apply for funds,” said committee member Kim Zandstra. Committee member and Village Commissioner Tim Gillian agreed, stating that “I bet it would be a lot harder to get the money than we think.”
He said he would contact “the powers that be at Forest Park National Bank” to discuss the possibility of providing low interest loans to homeowners whose homes met the criteria set forth by the ordinance.
Gillian said the purpose of the commission would be to offer homeowners help by guiding them to sources of grant money rather than applying for the grants and loans on behalf of residents. The commission could then “rubber stamp” resident’s applications for grants by declaring their homes worthy of historic preservation.
“Whatever guidelines the grantor puts forth, that’s going to be the problem of the homeowners,” he said.
The concern was also raised that homeowners might not want their homes declared part of a historic district because of the fear that property values would escalate to the point that the home would be impossible to sell.
“That’s a bizarre argument,” said Committee member Rich Vitton. “If a house is worth too much, sell it for less.” He noted that past research has shown that “historic” homes generally sell faster.
The committee emphasized that homeowners would have to give consent to have their homes declared part of a historic district.
Vitton said the biggest fear homeowners have expressed so far is that once their homes are declared historic, they will not be able to make any changes to their houses. This concern was raised by Commissioner Terry Steinbach when the committee first brought the idea of the ordinance before the village council in June.
“Nobody’s going to knock on your door and tell you to stop painting,” said Gillian. “We don’t want to know about interiors ” if you want to put a modern kitchen in, go ahead.”
Committee member Paul Barbahen noted that the only restriction the ordinance would place on homeowners is that they would not be able to modify their homes exterior in a way that distorts the original character of the house. He said that homeowners could opt out of the historic designation at any time.
The committee also discussed how they would go about determining which homes are historic and which are merely old. If the designation was based on age alone, said Zandstra, “the entire village could be declared a historic district.”
The committee brought along a color coded map showing the age of Forest Park houses. The most prominent color was pink, which represented homes built from 1900-09. In order to be eligible for historic status, homes must be at least 50 years old.
Zandstra said that while many homes, including her own, could be restored to their past glory by simply removing a layer of siding or other minor renovations, others have been altered beyond recognition over the years. “The majority of homes do not qualify, but you can make it qualify,” she said. Still, she said, “the homeowner has to take the responsibility to determine whether they want to do the work” of restoring their homes.
The committee decided that its next step would be to prepare a presentation that would take homeowners through the entire process of applying for a grant with the aid of a historic preservation commission and restoring their home to meet the commission’s criteria.
The presentation, they decided, would include discussion of similar ordinances in other towns and the impacts and benefits of such an ordinance for homeowners.
The committee set a plan to run through a first draft of its presentation during its Sept. 1 meeting, and encouraged the public to come critique the presentation in order to help them modify the presentation before bringing it before the village council.
After the meeting, the committee will draft a final version of the ordinance, which it will then give to the council. Committee members said they hoped to set up a special meeting with the village council to discuss the ordinance before coming before the commissioners with their final presentation at a regularly scheduled council meeting.