Modern home not welcome in Robbins

Historic preservation commissioners, residents decry plan to demo classic house

The proposal to demolish the 90-year-old home at 425 E. Eighth St., the latest flashpoint in the ongoing tussle between preservationists and those seeking room for redevelopment, will again be the subject of public hearing before the village’s historic preservation commission next week.

If the applicant’s first appearance is any indication, it could be a tense atmosphere.

During a Dec. 6 public hearing before commission on a request to build new on the site located in the Robbins Historic District, several residents spoke out against the loss of more of the village’s architectural heritage. Julie Driscoll Elmore said protecting historic charm is vital to local character.

“(Prospective buyers) want to have a lot of old homes mixed in with the new homes,” she said. “If you keep on tearing down the precious gems, then you’ve devalued the entire town.”

Carl Curry said community members should be alerted earlier when a historic home is eyed for demo.

“There’s something about the process here that suggests by the time we get here, we’ve lost the opportunity to bring change,” he told commissioners.

The 2.5-story Georgian Revival home, built in 1937, was designed by the well-known Chicago architecture firm Schmidt, Garden & Erikson, according to village documents. Distinguishing features include a side gable roof with overhanging eaves, a classical front entry surround with round columns and a triangular pediment, a fanlight over the front door and double hung wood windows with flat arched brick lintels and shutters, and two large double chimneys.

Owner Jeff and Nicole Cantalupo want to replace it with a two-story stucco home in off-white with accent areas composed of vertical and horizontal siding as well as Indiana limestone, accessible by a horseshoe driveway off of Eighth and a driveway on the west side of the property leading to a four-car attached garage. The plan also includes a pool, several covered porches and stucco wing walls. The proposal meets all bulk zoning requirements, according to village officials.

The commission has authority to issue or deny a certificate of appropriateness to allow the project because it lies in the historic district, but only in an advisory capacity. Commission Chairman John Bohnen cited preservation incentives the village enacted in 2022 to encourage people to renovate rather than rip down historic homes, but said the village’s power is limited because Hinsdale is non-home rule,

“We cannot deny someone a permit to tear down a house and have it stick,” he said. “Don’t think we haven’t tried to slow this teardown phenomenon down, because we have.”

Following those remarks, Bohnen announced that he would close the public hearing and the commission would refrain from reviewing the proposal for a certificate of appropriateness.

“The plans, as they’ve been submitted, they can’t be built in the historic district,” he opined, suggesting the design was too modern for the neighborhood. “I’m not inclined to review the house or the plans tonight because I don’t think they fit with our zoning code.

“We also will not be discussing the demolition permit of the house,” Bohnen added. “This does not preclude the owners and the architects from reviewing their plans and coming back before this commission.”

Project architect Michael Abraham asserted that the applicant adhered to village protocol every step of the way.

“There are rules to get to this meeting. We followed every rule there is,” Abraham said, questioning Bohnen’s legal authority to shut down the commission’s review. “We applied for and received building permit, zoning review and compliance with the zoning code.

“The statement that it does not meet zoning code is unfactual.”

Neighbors of the site expressed concern about the new home’s impact on problematic drainage in the area, as well as containment of any asbestos during demolition.

Developer Julie Laux assured commissioners that the house, which is vacant, is visited regularly to make sure it does not fall into disrepair.

In a discussion following the hearing, commissioner Shannon Weinberger voiced gratitude that so many are stirred at the idea of another historic home being razed.

“I’m very happy to see that the room was full,” she said. “That says we’re moving forward.”

“Sometimes you have to lose some monumental houses to really gain traction,” replied Bohnen, who suggested the commission needs to take a stronger stand for preservation.

“There’s a little nefarious game going on between certain builders and certain Realtors, and they’ve been preying upon us,” Bohnen said. “Maybe that day is coming to a screeching halt.”

The historic preservation commission will meet at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7, in the Memorial Building, 19 E. Chicago Ave.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean