New Procedures for Designating Historical Landmark Status Moving Forward

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Procedures for granting a building historical landmark status in Naperville have been called into question and are now moving forward with possible changes.

The issue was brought up at a city council meeting earlier this year, with the group advising city staff to take another look at the process. Thursday night, the Historic Preservation Commission drew up a proposed procedure for future requests.

Importance of Making a Building a Historical Landmark

Historical landmark status protects a building from any demolition of or construction on that property, unless approved by city council, in an effort to preserve its historical nature.

“Naperville is a wonderful place to live but that culture was influenced by its built environment and we think saving the right examples of that is important,” said Jane Ory Burke, Board Member for Naperville Preservation, Inc.  The organization is a grassroots group that has long tried to preserve the history of Naperville by applying for multiple buildings to be deemed as historical landmarks.

The current city ordinance allows anybody to ask for any building to be deemed a historical landmark, even if that individual or group is not the owner.  This makes it difficult should a building’s owner want to sell the property for construction of a new business.

“Honestly it is kind of a quark where anybody who’s a non-owner can propose to landmark a building they don’t own,” said Chris Jacks, Chairman for the Historic Preservation Commission.  “That is kind of an oddity and needed to be updated.  The question is, how do you do it and have a good compromise and a good final product?”

The last major building to be debated as a landmark building was the Kroehler YMCA in downtown, bringing to light issues with the current ordinance, which hadn’t been updated in years.  After last night’s discussion at the city’s Historic Preservation Commission meeting– not to be confused with the civic group Naperville Preservation, Inc. – it’s looking more likely that the property owner must be notified and sign off on the landmark status before final approval.

If the owner denies landmark status, there are provisions that make it possible, but difficult, for the applicant to appeal and pursue that protective status anyway, but adds a few hoops to go through.

“It’s a discussion that grew out of efforts to save the YMCA which was not successful.  I think that Naperville Preservation, first of all we were very happy that the process happened,” said Burke.  “We think it’s a positive step.  It’s a compromise.  It means that people will have to be dedicated to this and it means we will have to work hard to spread awareness but that’s okay.”

Moving Forward with New Procedures

The Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously on the new ordinance, which now goes to the Planning and Zoning Commission and then ultimately to City Council for consideration, but it wasn’t without some hesitation.

“The net effect is it’s going to be harder to get these buildings landmarked, if the owners don’t want them landmarked,” said Jacks.  “I just wanted to note that tonight that that is my concern.”

The new ordinance now on the table for council’s approval will also have additional language that makes it clear a homeowner can take it upon themselves to apply for landmark status if he or she chooses, something Naperville Preservation, Inc. said was not previously clear.

We’ll have more on this story as it develops.

Naperville News 17’s Kevin Machak reports.

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