The Hinsdalean - Community journalism the way it was meant to be

How to save a home? It takes a village


Last updated 3/11/2020 at 4:07pm | View PDF

A teardown wave is once again causing consternation in the Village of Hinsdale.

A generation ago, it was the scourge of new McMansions dwarfing neighboring older homes and altering the community’s landscape.

Today, in an era when reality programs show us how easily old can be made new, the hand-wringing is over the demolition of vintage homes. Twenty-four homes have been torn down in the Robbins Park neighborhood since that area was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.

The village board is poised to impose a six-month moratorium on demolition permits to provide time to study the matter and, presumably, establish zoning regulations to promote preservation of historic residences. It’s tricky business discerning the proper balance between upholding personal property rights and protecting a characteristic viewed as central to the village’s identity.

For reference, Lake Forest has leaned heavily toward the latter. Unlike Hinsdale, Lake Forest is a home-rule community with greater latitude in its legislative power. Properties there may be landmarked by the city’s historic preservation commission and city council, subjecting the structures to zoning restrictions. The city lays out the philosophy behind this approach:

1. “Historic preservation of historic properties and structures helps to maintain the established identity of a community and provides an understanding of the past in order to better plan for the future.”

That makes a lot of sense. But we need to consider whether giving elected officials that power might cause potential homebuyers to shift their investments to a less restrictive community.

2. “Historic preservation involves the entire community and is considered an excellent tool for economic development and stability.”

We hope residents from across the entire community turn out for and weigh in at the public hearing on the moratorium. We’ll let you know when it’s scheduled.

3. “Historic preservation encompasses many ideas and concepts and can be defined as the identification, protection and enhancement of historic resources.”

This speaks to perhaps the most fraught dimension of the issue, with people having different notions of what’s worth protecting and what’s an enhancement.

4. “Historic preservation goes beyond simply saving old buildings; it is a means of maintaining a historic character through the preservation of buildings, monuments, landscapes and allowing sensitive infill architecture to continue past traditions.”

There is no question that countless towns envy Hinsdale’s historic charm, which is on prominent display in the central business district, southeast Hinsdale and all across the community. The virtue in continuing past traditions, however, lies in an understanding and appreciation of those traditions. If residents feel no collective connection to that heritage except for some old structures scattered about, it’s hard to make a case they need special protections. We hope the village explores ways to promote education strategies along with zoning ones.

5. “There are many positive reasons to invest in the historic preservation of your property and the community as a whole.”

No argument here.

As Hinsdale lacks home-rule powers, it will be up to residents to determine what type of historic preservation ordinances — if any — should be binding and to work with elected officials to implement those decisions.

We hope those on all sides of the issue will make their voices heard.


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