Program throws lifeline to aging homes

Village's preservation incentives spur homeowners to save, not raze, historic residences

In 2001, Hinsdale established a voluntary landmarking program to help protect the village's architectural legacy.

Today 24 homes are landmarked.

In 2022, the village board enacted a Historic Overlay District to advance the preservation effort by offering incentives to renovate vintage dwellings instead of tearing them down. Interested homeowners can apply to be on the Historically Significant Structures list.

Today 79 homes are listed, with more poised for approval.

"The program has been more successful than we imagined," village planner Bethany Salmon said.

The fruit of that success was on display at the most recent historic preservation commission meeting Jan. 11 where the commission, in its authority under the Historic Overlay District, granted three homeowners zoning relief, building permit fee waivers and expedited village processing to streamline their proposals.

"Three good projects tonight," commission Chairman John Bohnen remarked after all had been approved. "This is a good thing."

Additionally, commissioners recommended the village board extend property tax rebates and matching grants to offset personal investments (see sidebar for list of incentives) for each applicant. If the village board agrees at their meeting next month, it would bring the total to 10 applications granted full incentives. Salmon said the projects range from allowing a couple of feet for a deck extension when the program was first rolled out to recent proposals for significant additions.

"Now that we're approaching a year, we're seeing the larger additions come in and we're seeing the bigger projects," she commented.

Last week the owners of 515 S. Lincoln St. appeared before the commission with proposed rear and side building additions and a new detached garage for their 1896 Colonial Revival-style home. Commissioners already had approved a request for incentives last August. This time the owners were seeking a recommendation for the monetary benefits.

"Since (last August), the homeowners have obtained a cost estimate for the proposed project and are now able to apply for a preservation incentive application for a property tax rebate and matching grant," village officials stated in the commission memo.

At 217 W. Hickory Street, the homeowners plan to build two additions onto the 1875 specimen featuring gabled-ell architecture.

"This works with the house. It's contextual. I have no issues with it," said Commissioner Jim Prisby, whose position was echoed by his colleagues.

The proposal for a rear building addition at 605 E. Third St. along with a patio, pergola, small swimming pool and deck also earned the praise of Prisby.

"It's all one story, so we're not creating these huge masses back there," Prisby said of the planned updates to the 1935 Tudor Revival. "It's exactly what I would want to see."

"It's all in the back. There's not a streetscape issue," Commissioner Bill Haarlow added. "Really nice plans."

Salmon said all three of the properties may have had different outcomes if not for the incentives.

"I'm really excited that some of these projects are coming through," she said. "Otherwise that may have been threatened by demolition."

Robb McGinness, building commissioner and director of community development, joked that his department's workload has spiked as a result.

"We're a victim of our own success," he said. "The goal was to move the needle (on preservation). Nobody anticipated some of these projects. We've got people making changes to accessory structures."

Salmon said local real estate agents have been instrumental in promoting the preservation incentive program to prospective buyers. And all take pride in reviving a piece of village heritage.

"It gives them a chance to celebrate their preservation success stories and showcase them to other homeowners," she said. "The numbers don't lie of how successful this has been. Overall I think we've had some really good projects come through, and I'm excited for the next one."

Haarlow indicated commissioners are pleased, too.

"They should all be this easy," he quipped to his colleagues.