Plan puts preservation into practice

The framework for offering tangible incentives to homeowners interested in historic preservation is beginning to take shape.

Hinsdale trustees met with historic preservation commissioners Tuesday to discuss the process.

The first step is to make sure the zoning code includes solid definitions of frequently used terms, said village attorney Michael Mars, who is working with village planner Bethany Salmon on the proposed text amendments.

Those definitions would be sent to the Hinsdale Plan Commission for a public hearing and then would require village board approval before being added to the zoning code as a text amendment.

“That creates the skeleton of how this is all going to work,” Mars said.

The second step would be to create a historic overlay district.

“The boundaries of the overlay district are going to be set so that they capture the universe of historic homes,” Mars said. “That doesn’t mean all the homes within those boundaries are eligible.”

Structures identified as historic within those overlay districts would be eligible for incentives that could include more generous bulk regulations, property tax rebates, grants and permit fee waivers.

The plan commission would hold one or more public hearings on the boundaries of the district and the individual properties on the list.

“There will be a lot of notice on that hearing or series of hearings,” Mars said. “The idea is once you’re on the list, we want it to be an easy, streamlined process.”

Homeowners who later want to be added to the list could apply, and homes that are demolished or substantially altered will be removed.

All incentives would be completely optional, Mars stressed, suggesting the village hold workshops to familiarize residents with what is being proposed and how it will work.

Officials estimate 100 or more homes might be eligible homes. Historic preservation commissioners are working on creating that list.

“I suspect there are certainly 50 or more in the Robbins (Historic Preservation) District,” said John Bohnen, historic preservation commission chairman. “So I would have to think there are as many in the other districts.”

That list will grow as more and more homes meet the criteria of being at least 50 years old, preservation Commissioner Bill Haarlow said.

“Every new year we have new houses that are eligible,” he said.

Zoning relief is likely to allow the owners of historic homes to put a larger addition on the back on the house.

“That’s the typical situation, where these older homes don’t have a family room off the kitchen,” Bohnen said. “The odds are visually going out the back is not going to hurt the neighbors on either side unless windows don’t match up or something.”

Homeowners of identified properties will not be able to do whatever they want, Salmon said. Variance requests might be needed and engineering and building permits will be required.

“It’s not like all the zoning laws are right out the door,” Salmon said.

Trustee Luke Stifflear noted that most people in town have expressed support for preservation during discussions over the past several months, but a select few — the owners of historic homes — have borne the cost.

“By relaxing certain zoning requirements, it really spreads that responsibility of historic preservation across a greater portion of the community,” he said.

The village plans to create a special fund to support preservation with an annual contribution from the village board. Fundraising also is part of the plan.

Officials seem to be leaning toward excluding central business district properties from the initial list.

“The sense of urgency is around the residential districts,” Haarlow said. “Teardowns are not an issue in the central business district.”

Bohnen agreed.

“We’re losing ground daily. We need to concentrate on the residential component,” he said.

The group should capitalize on the momentum the village has created around the issue of preservation, Bohnen added.

“Let’s keep our noses to the grindstone and get this work done and get it done correctly,” he said.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean