Late Monday night, the village board voted 6-0 to overturn a Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) ruling that would have barred a couple from replacing the porch of their Gunderson home.
Coupled with that decision, the village board has asked staff and the commission to work toward more clearly defining both the commission's powers, and the ordinances governing its decisions.
Controversy over the commission's ability to issue binding decisions was sparked last month, after the HPC considered a bid from homeowners Richard Carroll and Joyce Hopkins, 747 S. Elmwood Ave., to replace their deteriorating porch with one that featured square, Arts and Crafts style columns, rather than the existing Corinthian capital-topped round columns. In a vote of 5-1, the commission refused to grant the project a Certificate of Appropriateness, saying tearing down the current structure qualified as a "demolition in significant part," and therefore, the new porch should be an exact reproduction of its predecessor. The home lies within the Gunderson Historic district.
The decision angered several area residents, who said they were told when the village was considering establishing the historic district that the commission's role in considering modifications to homes would be only advisory.
Several residents on Monday urged the village board to reconsider both the commission's decision and its powers.
"There is a much larger issue involved here," said Carroll, owner of the "notorious" porch. "The commission has overstepped its authority in a way that will have a negative impact on the village. We ask that you demand a more rational balance between historic preservation and homeowners' rights."
"Gunderson's designs were not rigid, but flexible and diverse," argued Carroll's neighbor, Dennis Bracco. "This is an intrusion of a government agency that has overstepped its bounds."
However, Commission Chair Doug Gilbert defended HPC's vote, saying one could argue that the couple's plans were "equivalent to taking a Frank Lloyd Wright house and making it an Italianate."
Though he agreed the design of the new porch is consistent with others in the Gunderson district, Gilbert added that changing the character of too many homes in the area could ultimately compromise the integrity of the historic designation.
"It is the cumulative effect of decisions made in 1906 that we recognize as significant," he said. "We are always concerned with setting precedents."
Technically, however, Village Attorney Ray Heise said village trustees?#34;who heard the case after Carroll and Hopkins appealed the commission's ruling?#34;could find legal standing to overturn HPC's decision. One argument the board could turn to, he said, was that because the original building permits for the home in question couldn't be located, there is no direct proof that the porch is original. Therefore, based on language in village ordinance, the couple would only be required to construct a porch that is consistent with the Gunderson style, rather than build a replicate.
In addition, village board members said they felt it was important to also consider the impact the ruling may have on the ability of homeowners' to reasonably modify their properties.
"I hope you are not feeling like this is an interrogation. Your work is valued, but there is room for interpretation here," Trustee Ray Johnson told Gilbert. "There are other unintended consequences. People may not move forward with home improvements if they perceive guidelines to be too strict."
Trustee Robert Milstein said he also worried that Gunderson homeowners weren't appropriately informed that the commission had the power to issue binding rulings.
"This is one of those situations where the commission acted in good faith. The dilemma I'm having is that the language here is so broad that reasonable people could arrive at different opinions," Milstein said. "If I were to say, we love your rotted porch we want it to stay, you'd laugh. On the other side, I'm deeply concerned with the public's interpretation that they didn't get the straight dope."
Village President David Pope said he wasn't confident it's appropriate for homeowners in historic districts to build whatever they please?#34;as an example, he suggested "egg-shaped mirrored columns"?#34;but said he believed the commission's role should be reviewed.
"I think the commission has done exactly what we asked it to do. I'm not certain what we asked you to do is the right thing, or that it's built around something where there is community consensus," he said.