Zoning relief might boost preservation

Village officials are discussing a two-pronged approach to help encourage historic preservation in town.

One of the strategies is to offer incentives to those who are interested in preserving a historic home. The Hinsdale Village Board and Hinsdale Historic Preservation Commission met together Tuesday to discuss a proposal to offer zoning relief in such cases.

“The goal is to create a separate, streamlined, user-friendly section in the zoning code with easily applied bulk regulations for historic properties,” village planner Bethany Salmon wrote in a memo to trustees and commissioners.

The proposed changes would use building elevation to control height, allow for slightly reduced rear and side yard setbacks, waive floor area ratio requirements and increase lot coverage allowance from 50 to 60 percent.

Village staff reviewed four sample homes in the Robbins Park subdivision, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and explained what the proposed changes would mean on each lot. In most cases, the new rules would allow an addition to extend a little closer to the side and/or rear lot lines.

One of the four homes, at 420 S. Park Ave., would significantly benefit from the proposed relief, Salmon said. The changes would provide an extra 7 feet on the interior side of the irregularly shaped lot and 10 1/2 feet to the rear.

“That allows quite a bit more room just to allow for something like a small little addition to the south of the building or even a garage,” she said. “This is probably a case where it could make a huge difference.”

Nonconforming lots that no longer meet current code requirements would be more favorably situated, Salmon said.

The proposed relief could be offered to homes located in a historic overlay district and at scattered sites throughout the village. The overlay would eliminate the need for individuals to obtain landmark status for their home in order to qualify for the relief.

“Getting people to landmark their home is extremely challenging,” Salmon said.

Village officials still need to determine what the review and approval process would look like and how long it would last. Officials expressed interest in moving from a public hearing before the Hinsdale Zoning Board of Appeals to a public meeting before another group, possibly the historic preservation commission.

Preservation Commissioner Alexis Braden said the village needs a quick application process for those who would like to be added to a list of historic homes that qualify.

One way to do that would be through a zoning map amendment, but that would be cumbersome, Salmon said. “One would hope there would be an easier way,” she added.

Robb McGinnis, director of community development, said a message he heard loud and clear from a phone call with builders in town is that having a historic home needs to be very desirable.

“We want to create an environment where we have a list of exceptional homes, a list people are clamoring to get on rather than get off,” he said.

Braden said that while incentives are great, she would like more discussion of the work the commission did to revise Title 14 to regulate behavior, such as neglect, that could lead to teardowns.

Title 14 revisions will be discussed next, McGinnis said, noting Village President Tom Cauley wanted to work on incentives first — the carrot before the stick.

“They will dovetail in,” McGinnis said. “I think at the end of the day, we’re hoping to accomplish the same thing but we’re on two different tracks.”

Any of the zoning changes would have to go through the formal text amendment process, which would include notification to homeowners and neighbors, a public hearing before the plan commission and formal adoption by the village board.

Commissioners and trustees agreed to have staff begin working with a lawyer to draft the legal language required for a text amendment.

The groups have been meeting together since May and plan to do so again next month, before the village board meetings on Sept. 7 and 21. At the first of those meetings, which begin at 6:30 p.m., the group plans to look at other incentives to encourage historic preservation.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean