Trustees: moratorium not necessary

After asking the Hinsdale Plan Commission to consider a moratorium on the demolition of historic homes, most Hinsdale trustees are no longer interested in imposing one.

Following hours of public comment during three virtual hearings on June 10, 24 and 30, commissioners voted 4-2 not to recommend the moratorium to the Hinsdale Village Board.

“The whole purpose of the moratorium was (to allow) a standstill while we took action on the part of Title 14 that relates to demolitions,” Village President Tom Cauley said at the July 16 village board meeting, noting the many delays created by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Because of the limitations we have for public meetings, my suggestion is we not pursue the moratorium and instead devote our resources to Title 14.”

Cauley said he’s concerned about voting on any changes to the zoning code while meetings are held remotely. He would like to continue revising the proposed changes to Title 14 and hold first and second readings of the document when residents can attend.

“Obviously, if we can’t have public meetings until next year, that may change things,” he said. “But if we can have public meetings sometime in the fall, I certainly would like to put something of this importance off until we can have public meetings.”

The moratorium was intended to be temporary, Cauley said, and was not designed to deprive people’s property rights in perpetuity.

“In the case of a tie, my personal sentiments go with the property owners,” he said. “It’s always easy to say to your neighbor, ‘I don’t want you to sell your house.’ ”

Trustee Matt Posthuma agreed and noted that homeowners often use the proceeds from selling their house to fund their retirement plan.

“When you have such strong views and when they seem to be roughly equal among the village residents, I feel like I’ve got to tilt in favor of the people who actually own these homes and whose financial livelihoods are at stake,” he said. “This is their retirement. This is their nest egg.”

Scott Banke was the only trustee to speak in favor of imposing a moratorium. He believes the board needs to do more to preserve homes before Hinsdale loses its character and starts to look like Oak Brook or Naperville.

“I’ve lived here most of my life,” he said. “I’ve been a homeowner here for 30 years. I live in an old home and I am very distressed by what I would characterize as basically a wholesale destruction of what this town, in my view, represents.”

Trustees briefly discussed some of the incentives offered in Cauley’s proposed revisions to Title 14, including a rebate of the village’s portion of the property tax bill. Many are concerned that incentive is insufficient.

“I’m not sure that 7 percent of the taxes, I don’t think that’s going to be enough to really get the job done,” Trustee Neale Byrnes said. “So we’re going to have to put some serious money on the table and if we do that, we’re going to have to have a referendum and get buy-in from everybody.”

Trustee Jerry Hughes said he rejects the notion that the village does not have the right to restrict what people do with their property, citing significant zoning restrictions already in place. The challenge, he believes, is instituting fair, clear, effective zoning laws that are not arbitrary.

“We would need to have a solution that’s workable, and to me, workable means it’s actually going to accomplish the goal — it’s actually going to save historic homes,” he said.

He also noted the changing tastes in home design and warned against trying to defy shifts in the real estate market.

“There are significant economic drivers that tilt the balance in favor of teardowns,” he said. “I may not like it, but that’s what we’re up against.”

Trustees will continue to discuss informally the revisions to Title 14 and plan to hold an official vote on the moratorium at their next meeting Tuesday, Aug. 11.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean