Village seeks to allay preservation spats

In response to calls for additional village action to discourage the demolition of historic homes, Hinsdale trustees are considering requiring design review meetings for those looking to tear down and build new.

At Tuesday night’s village board meeting, Village President Tom Cauley introduced an ordinance to modify the current process overseen by the historic preservation commission, which must issue a nonbinding certificate of appropriateness for a new construction application before demolition can occur in the Robbins Park Historic District or at other sites designated significant.

“There’s a tension between preserving the historical district and preserving property rights,” Cauley said. “We’d like balance between an effort to preserve the history of Hinsdale and the Robbins area and the rights of the individual homeowner.”

The proposed ordinance would mandate that applicants, before appearing in front of the historic preservation commission, meet informally with an ad hoc team comprised of a trustee, a commission member and possibly a third person appointed by Cauley to go over the demolition/construction plan.

Applicants also would be shown a selection of architectural styles consistent with the historic district’s existing palate.

“The purpose of this would be to review the designs at the very initial stages before they become finalized,” Cauley said.

Applicants also would need to prepare an architectural impact study on the property. But trustees questioned whether that provision might prove overly time-consuming and financially onerous.

“I wonder if there are some parameters we can put around that to make it clear that someone doesn’t have to write a novel,” Trustee Matt Posthuma said.

Others shared his concern, finding consensus in enlisting the Hinsdale Historical Society to provide records for $50-$100 per report.

Another component of the proposed ordinance would be to have applicants come before the board if the HPC denies the certificate of appropriateness.

“It would be one further step in persuading people to either 1) not demolish the house or 2) put up something that’s consistent with what we envision is appropriate,” Cauley said. “At the end of the day, the homeowner can ultimately do what they want to do with the property.”

Cauley said if the village failed to adhere to the timeline, the applicant would be released from the process.

The move is in response to a contentious HPC hearing in December concerning an application to tear down the 90-year-old home at 425 E. Eighth St. Objecting to the planned design for the replacement home, commission Chairman John Bohnen refused to hold a vote for a certificate of appropriateness, overstepping the authority of the advisory body. Commissioners ultimately did vote — to deny the certificate — while expressing frustration that applicants seemed to show a lack of sensitivity to the legacy of the historic district.

Cauley said the intent of the ordinance is to raise people’s awareness of the village’s heritage but not compel particular action. He also said the timeline from application to construction should not be unduly prolonged.

“I envision (the new provisions) will add two or three months, and in many cases it could be quicker than the existing process,” he said.

Trustees are expected to vote on the measure next month.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean