Historic preservation enters new era

New historic overlay district and incentives designed to help homeowners save houses

Owners of historic homes in Hinsdale soon will have the opportunity to take advantage of relaxed zoning regulations and grant opportunities.

The Hinsdale Village Board voted unanimously Tuesday to create a Historic Overlay District that includes much of the village and to offer various incentives to owners of historically significant structures.

"We're hoping it's going to be really effective and get people excited about preservation," village planner Bethany Salmon told The Hinsdalean Wednesday. "We're really proud of the product we put forward."

One of the first steps the new ordinance requires is the creation of a list of historically significant properties.

"We want this to be a list people are excited to get on and excited about moving forward," Salmon said. "We do have a number of homeowners already that are excited about getting on this list and preserving their homes."

The list will be compiled over time, she noted, with those requesting inclusion approved first. The Hinsdale Historic Preservation Commission will hold public hearings to review each property's eligibility, likely reviewing multiple properties at a time.

Property owners will be able to apply to be added or removed from the list at any time.

The owners of homes on the list will be able to take advantage of a variety of incentives (see sidebar), including use of alternative bulk zoning regulations that would make it easier for homeowners to build an addition to provide a larger kitchen or great room, for example. Homeowners also can apply for property tax rebates and historic preservation grants.

The appropriate way to preserve historic homes in the village has been a topic of discussion for years, said Robb McGinnis, director of community development. At a Zoom meeting with local builders and architects during the pandemic, a simple question was asked: What can the village do to try to save some of these homes?

"It was just a question, because none of the sticks that were proposed seem to get any traction, so we made an effort to focus on carrots," McGinnis said. "We had good participation. We had builders, architects, brokers and staff. We said, 'Look, guys, what's it going to take to move the needle?' "

Potential changes then were discussed at eight joint meetings of the village board and historic preservation commission between May 2021 and January 2022. The Hinsdale Plan Commission unanimously recommended approval after holding a Aug. 10 public hearing.

"My gut is this will do far more to encourage preservation than any stick we could have put into place," McGinnis said.

Salmon and McGinnis emphasized that the program is completely voluntary, and they will be working on a campaign to better educate the public.

Homeowners who are interested in obtaining more information or being added to the list can contact Salmon by phone at (630) 789-7035 or email at [email protected].

McGinnis said he is excited to see the process unfold.

"Personally I'm tired of seeing good houses come down, the truly special houses," he said. "There haven't been that many, but there have been truly special houses that come down with no reason for it."

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean