Cauley proposes historic preservation plan

A week before plan commissioners finished their deliberations on a proposed moratorium to stop the demolition of historic homes, Village President Tom Cauley presented a draft ordinance designed to help preserve such homes.

The draft is actually a revision to Title 14 of the village code, which covers historic preservation.

The new language offers several incentives to homeowners who want to renovate a historic home, including an exemption from floor-area ratio requirements (which regulate the size of a home relative to the lot) and relief from rear and side yard setback requirements.

Financial incentives could feature a rebate on the village portion of one’s property taxes and the waiving of public hearing, building permit and other fees. The revised ordinance also would expedite the process for homeowners to appear before the historic preservation commission or zoning board of appeals.

Cauley present the draft revision at the village board meeting June 16, citing the scheduling difficulties the COVID-19 pandemic has created since trustees first asked the plan commission to consider a moratorium in March.

“There has been an extended period of time since we talked about this at the board level, so I thought it would be worth proposing something to just get the ball rolling,” he said. “This is nothing more than a discussion item.”

He characterized the revisions as offering “more carrots than sticks” and identified the one “stick” as the board’s ability to delay the sale of a historic home for up to six months to “afford an opportunity to find alternatives to the proposed action.” One example given was requiring the applicant to market the property with a public real estate listing that highlights the incentives offered. All other input from trustees or the historic preservation commission would be advisory.

Cauley said he was trying to balance the desire to preserve historic homes with respect for people’s property rights.

“In my mind, the tie should go to the people who want you to respect their property rights, because I think it’s very easy for others to say, ‘I want my neighbor to keep his house and I don’t care how that financially impacts him,’ ” he commented.

Plan commissioners discussed the proposed changes as they considered the moratorium at their meeting Tuesday night. They supported the idea of offering incentives.

“I think the village should look to implement those as soon as possible,” Commissioner Troy Unell said of the incentives.

Commission Chairman Steve Cashman believes the village board should ask voters in a referendum whether village property taxes should be rebated on historic homes.

“If you’re going to do that, the entire village needs to chime in,” he said.

Julie Laux, owner of J Jordan Homes who wants to tear down and replace the home at 641 S. Elm St., called in to the village board meeting to object to what she considers the misdirection of residents’ attention.

“(A)ll of the villagers think they are commenting on whether we should have a moratorium, when they should be commenting on what is happening in the ultimate ordinance,” she said.

Laux voiced support for incentives and believes any changes must guarantee a reasonable time frame for homeowners to apply for a renovation or demolition permit.

“Right now it is a very long and arduous process that has a limited amount of time,” she said.

Any proposed changes to the ordinance would be subject to a plan commission public hearing and several discussions at the village board level before they could be enacted.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean