Maywood Home for Soldiers’ Widows | Landmarks Illinois
Friday, October 21, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
An attempt by several Maywood trustees to change the village’s local landmark designation process has generated backlash among their board colleagues and community members.
During an Oct. 12 Legal, License and Ordinance Committee (LLOC) meeting, Trustees Ron Rivers, Melvin Lightford and Antonette Dorris voiced their support for an ordinance that would allow property owners in the village to withdraw their properties from landmark designation.
Rivers said he approached the village’s attorneys suggesting they draw up the draft ordinance, because the current historic preservation ordinance doesn’t have a specific procedure for “withdrawing a landmark designation once given,” according to an Oct. 5 memo by attorney Michael A. Marrs, an attorney with the village’s contracted law firm, Klein, Thorpe & Jenkins.
Rivers and Dorris explicitly referenced the Maywood Soldiers Widows Home, the village-owned property located at 224 N. 1st Avenue. The historic structure, which was granted local landmark status in August, is considered ripe for potential development.
The two trustees said that they were worried that the landmark designation would hamper would-be developers seeking to revitalize the corner of Lake St. and 1st Ave. on which the building is located.
Although local landmark status doesn’t necessarily protect buildings from demolition, there are certain restrictions to what property owners can and can’t do to the historical integrity of buildings granted local landmark status.
For instance, anyone seeking permits “relating to alterations, construction, removal or demolition” of the landmark structures will need to obtain what’s called a certificate of appropriateness (COA) from the Historic Preservation Commission.
“A COA is required if the building, structure or site will be altered, extended, or repaired in such a manner as to produce a major change in the exterior appearance of such building or structure,” the village’s ordinances state.
An exception to the COA requirement is allowed if the permit applicant demonstrates to the commission that “a failure to grant the permit will cause an imminent threat to life, health or property.”
The draft ordinance supported by Rivers, Dorris and Lightford would allow property owners seeking to remove landmark status to file an application for withdrawal with the village’s community development department.
The completed application would then go directly to the Board of Trustees for consideration. A four-vote majority among trustees would be required to withdraw an official landmark designation or historic area designation.
Critics of the proposed ordinance argued that it effectively neuters the Historic Preservation Commission, while Rivers said all the measure does is empower the Board of Trustees to make it easier for developers to operate.
“I applaud your commission for what you do,” Rivers said, “but I’m also not in favor of giving up village property to any commission and we have no say-so.”
“This new amendment essentially neuters the Historic Preservation Commission as it’s written,” said Tom Kus, the commission’s chairman, during public comments at the Oct. 12 LLOC meeting. “What’s the point of having commissions if we’re just going to pull something out like that? That’s unheard of.”
“It’s preposterous that you would even consider gutting the [Historic Preservation Commission],” said Maywood resident Gordon Hanson, adding that the tax credits granted to homeowners whose properties are given local landmark status are what, in part, attract people to Maywood.
“It would be disrespectful, shortsighted and ignorant if you were to get rid of your historic designations on any of the buildings,” said Maywood resident Alise Buchmeier, who owns a home with local landmark status. She said she uses the tax credits for repairs.
“I find this proposal completely offensive,” said Heather Stelnicki, a planning and zoning commissioner. “One of the main things we have in this community is our housing stock.”
Maywood resident Larice Davis pushed back against some residents who were lauding the tax credits.
“There are those of us who grew up in Maywood, who do not have the tax credit that everybody is talking about,” Davis said. “[Those tax credits] are not the only good thing in Maywood.”
Trustee Michael Rogers said the proposed ordinance undermines the expertise of members on the historic preservation commission, all of whom are volunteers.
He also argued, as he has done in the past, that local landmark status doesn’t hamper prospective development; rather, it protects the historical integrity of the village’s architecture.
Trustee Isiah Brandon argued that the proposed ordinance shouldn’t even have been drafted without the collective deliberation of the full board.
“I’m trying to understand the process by which this came about,” said Brandon. “By having an attorney draw this up, it cost us and it cost the village […] Before we [got] to this point, this board [should’ve had] a collective conversation regarding this matter.”
Attorney Michael Jurusik said that, after he was contacted by “several trustees,” he “circled back with the manager to move forward with this process.”
Jurusik argued that the proposed ordinance doesn’t “gut” historic landmark designation process; rather, he said, “it just allows somebody to remove themselves from the process just like it allows someone to apply for the process.”
He also noted that the proposed ordinance wouldn’t just apply to the Widows Home. It has an “even, equal application for all properties across the town,” he said.
But Dorris noted that her interest in the proposed ordinance specifically stemmed from her concern that landmark status might hamper the development of the Widows Home.
“Whatever needs to be done to get that property developed to lower taxes for the community,” Dorris said, “let’s make that happen.
Rogers aggressively pushed back against Dorris’ assumption that the historic building’s landmark designation presents a particular obstacle to development.
“There just seems to be a refusal to understand something that’s been talked about time and time again,” he said. “There is nothing about historic preservation that hampers development. It’s a standard.
“It just means you can’t come do whatever you want — just like zoning and all the rest of that stuff. You have a town with no standards and all heck breaks loose. You have to have standards!”
The board voted 4-3 to table discussion of the proposed ordinance until the next LLOC meeting on Oct. 26, with Mayor Edwenna Perkins and Trustees Brandon and Rogers voting against the motion. VFP