HPC can't prevent post-modern home

No changes made to plans as commissioners air criticism of design in historic district

Hinsdale's historic preservation commission failed to meet its responsibility in December by refusing to vote on an application to tear down a 90-year-old home and build new, according to the village's legal counsel.

The Feb. 7 HPC meeting included a second public hearing on the application for 425 E. Eighth St., a procedural redo to allow commissioners to register a decision, which is something they were advised should have been done after the Dec. 6 hearing on the same matter. The first hearing ended with commission Chairman John Bohnen declining to hold a vote because of his objections to the new home's design.

At last week's meeting Marrs underscored the commission's status as an advisory body only that has a duty to rule on applications that come before it.

"We really can't stop the demolition or make them change the design," Marrs told commissioners. "Even if you vote no, they get a demolition permit if their other obligations to the village are satisfied, which I understand in this case they are.

"Your obligation is to provide feedback under the code to the applicant on their designs and their proposed demo," Marrs continued. "And we brought this matter back to you specifically to give you the opportunity to provide that feedback before going to a vote."

Owners' Jeff and Nicole Cantalupo were seeking a certificate of appropriateness for their project from the commission because the property sits in the Robbins Park Historic District.

Bohnen was the most vocal member in opposition to the post-modern design at the December meeting, particularly a glass bridge component of the structure. After closing the hearing, he said a vote would not be held, with other commissioners signaling their concurrence.

"The plans, as they've been submitted, they can't be built in the historic district," Bohnen said.

At the Feb. 7 meeting, Marrs also acknowledged Bohnen's criticism that applications reach the commission too late for any modifications to be meaningfully discussed.

"We are working on some code changes to make adjustments to the process," Marrs said, including earlier mandatory pre-application meetings for homeowners and design teams to address any problematic issues.

But Marrs noted the current application is not subject to future revisions.

Bohnen admitted that the commission's "hands are relatively tied" and suggested his refusal to hold a vote came out of a desire to protect the village's architectural heritage.

"My concern with this particular house was deeper than just this house," Bohnen said. "By insisting on building the current design incorporating the glass bridge, this home has the potential of undermining the very existence of the historic district."

Commissioner Chris Elder said he didn't object to the home's look in general as long it was built in a different place.

"It would look good somewhere, but just not in our historic district. It just doesn't fit," he said.

Commissioners Sarah Barclay and Frank Gonzales didn't hide their frustration with the proposal, with Barclay asserting the design pays "little respect to the historic district," and Gonzales lamenting what he regarded as a "screw the rest of the neighborhood" attitude on the part of the owners.

Before the hearing was closed, resident and historic home owner Anne Acker advocated for stiffer preservation regulations.

"We're at this turning point now," she said. "If we don't do something about this one, there's going to be three in its place."

The four commissioners present voted unanimously against both the demolition and the construction applications. Officials stated the plan meets zoning requirements and can move forward regardless of the vote.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean