Preservation incentives considered

As part of an ongoing exploration of ways to protect the town’s historic homes, Hinsdale officials are considering initiatives to give restoration an edge over demolition.

Speaking at a joint meeting of the village trustees and village preservation commissioners Tuesday night, village planner Bethany Salmon discussed incentives such as a historic preservation fund and historic facade improvement rebate program.

The preservation fund could provide grant funding for exterior improvements to historic buildings, Salmon explained, and to pay for historic district improvements like wayfinding signs or housing studies.

The rebate program would be more focused.

“It’s just to provide grant funding to private property owners for their exterior improvements,” she said.

The village would either create a line item for the program in its annual budget or use money collected from fees and fines to operate it, with the stipulation that homeowners also contribute.

“There’s generally a cost-sharing portion,” Salmon remarked. “Someone has to have their own skin in the game.”

Trustee Matt Posthuma voiced skepticism about the allure of financial incentives in an affluent village like Hinsdale.

“The question isn’t whether somebody’s going to get $5,000 or not,” he said. “It’s what they can do on their property given the rules and the process for getting that done.”

John Bohnen, preservation commission chair, agreed, saying the amount of funding available won’t convert someone keen to redevelop a property. But he believes making such resources available would show to prospective buyers considering preservation that village values its vintage character.

“What we’re trying to do is find some reasonable ground where reasonable people say, ‘There’s enough of an interest in the community to support our interest in renovating older houses,’ ” Bohnen said.

Salmon also laid out options for waiving application and building permit fees along with property tax rebates, which could cost the village an estimated $3,000 to $50,000 a year, depending on the approach. All the financial inducements, along with zoning relief proposals covered at a previous meeting, could, in aggregate, have an impact, she said.

“When you start piling them all on top of each other, it could make a really big dent in trying to get people to preserve these homes versus just demolish them,” Salmon stated.

Preservation Commissioner Shannon Weinberger said she’d like to see these carrots extended to landmarked homes.

“If there were incentives for just a landmarked home to have this opportunity, I think we could see an uptick in people landmarking their homes,” she said.

Bohnen said owners of historic homes who don’t want to landmark should still get benefits.

“That owner should be able to qualify for some incentives to maintain that home as long as they live in it,” he said.

Bohnen said the village has an opportunity fashion its own preservation plan.

“We can design a program and ratios to accomplish what we’re trying to do and set our budgets and set our thresholds,” Bohnen said.

Another joint meeting is expected to be held the first week of October to discuss a draft ordinance of the proposed incentives.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean