Amid a “teardown issue” that village officials previously described as a “huge problem,” Winnetka’s Village Council is preparing measures to strengthen the preservation of historic homes.
Village trustees continued deliberations to bolster regulations for historic and architecturally significant homes during their Tuesday, Feb. 16 meeting.
Officials first proposed during a January study session a series of alterations to Winnetka’s current regulations for demolishing homes with historic and architectural significance. At the conclusion of that session, trustees opted to examine two amendments.
The first would allow the village’s Landmark Preservation Commission to issue a demolition delay period of up to 270 days, while the second would provide an incentive of a 20 percent gross floor area bonus to any single-family property that the commission finds to have historical or architectural significance.
Trustees reaffirmed their support for the measures, while stating imperfections will still remain, on Tuesday, Feb. 16, when they also provided additional guidance for village staff to prepare amendments for the council’s Tuesday, March 2 meeting.
“I think it’s not perfect, but it’s clearly a step in the right direction,” village trustee Rob Apatoff said. “ … I think we’re not going to get this perfect, but we need to move and get this done.”
The council’s desire for quick change comes after a recent stretch of historically significant properties in the village were either demolished or required grassroots community preservation measures.
In a late 2020 council meeting, trustee Jack Coladarci said he has witnessed the demolition issue firsthand over the past 18 months, claiming the teardown problem in Winnetka is “out of control.”
Coladarci, who is also the acting chairman of the Landmark Preservation Commission, added that “Winnetka is the big, fat, easy target” because of its lax preservation ordinances.
Under current village regulations, before a property in Winnetka can be demolished, it much be reviewed by the Landmark Preservation Commission.
The commission first reviews the permit to determine if the property holds historical or architectural significance. If it does, the property is subject of a Historical Architectural Impact Study.
The property owner seeking to demolish then hires a consultant to complete the study, and it is presented to the commission at a future meeting.
The process takes roughly one-two months, officials said.
It is then determined if there should be the issuance of a 60-delay in the demolition to provide an opportunity to possibly save the building.
But after the 60-day delay, the applicant can still move forward with demolishing the structure, as the Landmark Preservation Commission can not prevent the demolition of a structure, it can only attempt to facilitate a preservation agreement.
The rules, which have been largely unchanged since the 1980s, give the village limited control of demolitions, even if properties are deemed historic.
If the council opts to adopt the proposed amendments, a property owner would have to wait 270 days after the completion of the Historical Architectural Impact Study to demolish the home.
Also proposed is an amendment providing a 20 percent gross floor area bonus for a home that the commission deems historic and architecturally significant.
“The thought is this tool is supposed to be an incentive to encourage property owners to preserve their homes,” Community Development Director David Schoon said.
Louise Holland, the longtime chair of the Landmark Preservation Commission who stepped away from the position late last year for health reasons, addressed the council with a message of thanks.
“I’m glad that the (council) is giving this attention, said Holland, who added “it needs to be looked at” and that “residents want a little bit more protection than what is in the ordinance now.”
Officials plan on ensuring the amendments, if approved, would be applicable immediately; meaning that properties with current demolition permits submitted to the village would face the same standards.
The council also aims to further review historic home preservation measures in the coming years as the village embarks on its development of an updated Comprehensive Master Plan.
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Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.