Board eyes incentives to save homes

Hinsdale trustees have put to rest the idea of temporary ban on historic home teardowns. But village officials continue to explore ways to promote preservation of its vintage structures.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, trustees voted 5-1 against the proposed 180-day moratorium, having previously expressed strong reservations about restricting property rights in the name of saving historic homes. Trustee Scott Banke cast the lone dissenting vote.

The village’s plan commission last month recommended against the moratorium, a suggestion that emerged after permit applications to knock down several historic homes raised concerns about a steady dismantling of the village’s character. The teardown ban was seen as a way to buy time for officials as they developed new regulations on preservation.

The discussion on potential modifications to Title 14 of the village’s code, which addresses historic preservation, began a couple of months ago and continued Tuesday. Hinsdale attorney Michael Marrs outlined several incentives to encourage rehabilitation over demolition, such as the creation of historic preservation fund to help offset a homeowner’s costs of restoration or renovation.

“They want to make some changes or put some money into the property to change it back,” Marrs explained. “(The village) could maybe uses some of this money to help fund those changes.”

He said a property tax rebate, in which a portion of the village’s tax would be returned to the homeowner, is another possible inducement. Those eligible would need to demonstrate that “the cost of the work exceeds a certain percentage of the appraised value of the property,” Marrs said, and the rebate would run for a set number of years.

Relief on zoning restrictions is already utilized as an incentive, and, in fact, was employed Tuesday when trustees voted to allow the owners of the 140-year-old home at 318 S. Garfield Ave. to exceed limits on floor area ratio and total lot coverage to enlarge a sun room.

However, they also approved a demolition permit for the R. Harold Zook-designed home at 444 E. Fourth St., which has sat vacant for several years as efforts to find a buyer for it have not been fruitful.

President Tom Cauley said it illustrates that market forces have the ultimate say.

“As a village board, if somebody’s not going to buy it and restore it, and the property owner wants to tear it down, I’m not sure there’s much else we can do,” Cauley said. “I think the overriding purpose of these regulations we have is to try and slow down the process and try to see if there’s an opportunity to have somebody restore these homes.”

Marrs introduced the idea of one-year waiting period before a new property owner can apply for a demolition permit, unless the home was marketed for at least a year as a historic or contributing property with available village incentives publicized.

Any measures implemented would be reviewed at least every five years to evaluate their effectiveness.

Trustee Jerry Hughes said he wants to make sure the village casts a wide net in its preservation push.

“We have great homes that contribute to the historic character of the village throughout the village,” he said. “If we have an effective incentive program to save homes, I actually think we shouldn’t limit that to what has been defined as the historic district.”

Banke said that while it’s hard to quantify the value of historic homes to a town, they have significant “representational attributes.”

“The efforts that we’re going through right now are very positive and I think, provided that we’re successful, will go a long way toward having this long-term value remain with our town,” he said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean