Wright Historic District may grow under Oak Park plan

But some residents express hesitance to make switch


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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

Click here to see documents about the proposed expansion.

Oak Park is considering expanding the boundaries of the nationally recognized Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District.

The village had already expanded the borders of the "national" historic district for the neighborhood, and now they want to make the "local" historic district boundaries match. The national designation is more of an honorary designation, while the local version requires that any demolitions or exterior alterations at homes be first reviewed by staff at village hall.

The boundaries of the historic district were oddly and arbitrarily drawn back in 1972. And the village's Historic Preservation Commission thought it made sense to go back and re-examine them, said Doug Kaarre, urban planner for the village.

"It's been clear for a long time that the boundaries of the existing district were kind of odd," he said. "They were in odd locations, they cut through the middle of blocks, and they didn't really make sense in some areas."

Oak Park successfully expanded the boundaries of the nationally designated historic district back in 2009. Now the commission hopes to make the local boundaries match those. The village hosted an informational meeting about the proposed change at the Oak Park Public Library last week.

Residents in the neighborhood seemed to have a lot of questions about the idea, so the commission plans to host a couple more informational meetings in the next few months, said Chairwoman Chris Morris, with the next one possibly happening in May.

"I was really pleased with the turnout, and I thought people had very legitimate questions," Morris said. "We just need more time to be able to explore those and get the full answers that they're looking for."

Amir Sheibany, of the 1000 block of Ontario, is one resident who is skeptical of a boundary change. He's supportive of the expansion, which would add his home to the historic district, but questions why the village wouldn't include the corner of Lake and Forest, where a developer wants to build a 20-story tower.

"When these buildings come in, the concept of a historic district goes down the drain," he said Monday by phone.

Last year, the American Planning Association named the historic district — loosely bordered by Division, Lake, Ridgeland and Marion — as one of the country's 10 "great neighborhoods."

The proposed expansion would include all or portions of 97 blocks and 1,934 properties. Any expansion of the historic district would require a public hearing, and final approval from the village board.


Oak Park's Current Histroic Districts

Reader Comments

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HP Supporter  

Posted: March 25th, 2011 9:43 AM

Mr's Hancock and Scharre - I support historic preservation as a positive force for our community and you do not. We are all entitled to our own opinions or "personal agendas" as you put it. The law supports landmark designation, so it becomes a matter of politics. On that I think we agree. Hence the public meetings and eventual decision by the Village Board.

Tom Scharre  

Posted: March 24th, 2011 10:06 PM

@HP: Okay, good point. But I might also have cited "Brown v. The Board of Education" or any other of a number of landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that overturned accepted wisdom. The law is never "settled." So, I repeat: life is a dynamic proposition, constantly being altered by people with a personal agenda. (Still, I do believe in the rule of law and you currently have the upper hand.)

J. Hancock  

Posted: March 24th, 2011 9:54 PM

@HPS You choose to be a cog and go along - I do not. BTW - you totally missed Tom's point.

HP Supporter  

Posted: March 24th, 2011 9:25 PM

Mr Scharre - the Constitution had to be changed with the 13th Amendment to overturn the Dred Scott case. Mr. Hancock, debating whether historic preservation is a taking under the 5th Amendment isn't a matter of personal opinion, it's settled case law from the past 40 years.


Posted: March 24th, 2011 3:32 PM

Excellent point Tom. I would encourage readers to review the 5th Amendment and emminent domain laws and make your own interpretation. What exactly is a bundle of property rights taken away from the government without your consent?

Tom Scharre  

Posted: March 24th, 2011 2:34 PM

@HP Supporter: in 1857, the Supreme Court ruled, in the Dred Scott decision, that slaves were private property and "not protected by the Constitution." Was that also the "end of story"? Life is a dynamic proposition, constantly being altered by people with a personal agenda.

J Hancock  

Posted: March 24th, 2011 2:26 PM

Ok, I admit, I exagerated to make a point. Zoning laws protect against obnoxious uses and overbuilt lots. Other laws require property maintenance. This addional layer is unnecessary. At a minimum, let the affected property owners vote on the issue, does that seems fair enough? BTW, I would not be affected, I already live in one of those "historic" (old) homes.

HP Supporter  

Posted: March 24th, 2011 2:00 PM

Well J Hancock, the courts, including the US Supreme Court, have consistently said that historic preservation is not a taking or eminent domain. End of story. And ask the folks on North Maple how they like having a weed infested empty lot in what used to be a nice residential block. All they can hope for one day is an overscaled condo development. Bet that does a lot for their property values...

Al rossell from Oak Park  

Posted: March 23rd, 2011 7:49 AM

For those who think Historic Districts add value, be aware that I have not found any recent studies supporting that statement. All studies I found were done many years ago, in areas that were somewhat blighted initially. Be aware that you are loosing some property rights. As your home ages you might find it more costly to fix. When the Village says things are merely advisory, it generally is not the case. Ask your friends who already live in a historic district.

epic lulz  

Posted: March 23rd, 2011 2:46 AM

No, Mr. Hancock, they are indeed the same thing. You're just a classic NIMBY -- you object to all public "takings", except for those that net benefit you personally, which of course you don't label as "takings", though, of course, they indeed are. Yadda yadda yadda.

J. Hancock  

Posted: March 22nd, 2011 10:54 PM

@epic - A homeless flop house seems like an oxymoron but the strip club has possibilities. :) Zoning and hysterical districts are very different. They amount to a taking - Oak Park is not Nantucket.

epic lulz  

Posted: March 22nd, 2011 10:38 PM

@J Hancock -- I'm going to buy the properties next to you and open up a strip club on one side and a homeless flop house on the other side.

Tom Scharre  

Posted: March 22nd, 2011 10:01 PM

Yes, this is good news. The same institutional entity that cannot build a multi-million public garage without it crumbling after four years, is now going to be able to "fly-speck" the size of the mullions & muntins of an ever-increasing number of homeowner's replacement double-hung windows. Perhaps Hemingway's oft-quoted admonition about Oak Park should be updated to "the village of broad laws & narrow interests."

J Hancock  

Posted: March 22nd, 2011 9:01 PM

@Oak Parker - Hurray - Relinguish control of your property to some ad hoc committee - that's what America is all about. Police power is indeed a "wonderful tool." I guess we should make the entire town a historic district since it will increase our property values - hopefully more than the ever increasing real estate taxes.

Oak Parker  

Posted: March 22nd, 2011 7:21 PM

This is good news for everyone in the proposed expanded district. The historic preservation ordinance protects the architectural and historic character of the Oak Park neighborhoods we live in and invest in. I fully support this effort and there are many in the expanded district who do. Historic preservation enhances property values, preserves neighborhood character, and is a wonderful tool for the Village to use for our benefit. Calling it an eminent domain action is wrong. See 153 F. 3d 356

J Hancock  

Posted: March 22nd, 2011 5:37 PM

What exactly "just compensation" will the Village to paying to the affected homes under this eminent domain proceeding?

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