River Forest’s citizens and village trustees continued what will likely be an extended debate over the pros and cons of a proposed historic preservation ordinance on Monday.

Opponents of the legislation argued that the ordinance would place excessive restrictions on property rights and that the ordinance’s language is too vague. Supporters said that many comparable communities have historic preservation ordinances, and that River Forest has a wealth of architectural heritage that must be preserved. The ordinance, they said, is largely voluntary and educational.

Of 13 who spoke about historic preservation, six raised concerns about the ordinance.

Some citizens objected to the ordinance’s language. Carla Graham-White, who lives in a historic Robert Spencer home at 743 Park, wondered whether she would need to return to the original landscaping and roofing of her house. The language of the ordinance, she said, is confusing and needs to be clarified.

Others were worried about burdens placed on residents of River Forest’s historic district. Architect Doug Madel said the proposed ordinance would overly restrict the rights of owners of non-contributing structures in the historic district.

Resident Eileen Curran, who spoke up to defend the ordinance, observed that many comparable communities in the Chicago suburbs have historic preservation ordinances.

Historic Preservation Committee co-chair Laurel McMahon, who helped draft the ordinance, said the nine-page ordinance is simpler and less restrictive than Oak Park’s 29-page document. Only voluntarily landmarked properties and new homes, she added, are subject to binding review by the commission. Everything else, she said, is educational and advisory.

Trustees were as divided as citizens. Trustee Russ Nummer said the ordinance’s vague language opens the door for abuse. He added that it is a great burden to place on residents to require them to provide private financial information to a historic preservation commission to prove that they cannot pay for a renovation.

President Frank Paris said he is concerned that the cost of the ordinance to the village would be too great, that binding review of new homes is inappropriate, and that a 60-day waiting period is too long. The waiting period is intended to educate the homeowner and developer about historic preservation before changes to a home are made. Paris believes that places an unfair financial burden on residents who must pay interest on their home during the waiting period.

Trustee Michael O’Connell said he was troubled that the historic district was created with very little input from the people of River Forest and wanted to ensure that any historic preservation ordinance was enacted with as much public input as possible. He proposed that the ordinance be put directly before River Forest citizens as a referendum. If the sale of alcohol in the village is important enough to put on the ballot, he said, surely historic preservation is.

Trustee Al Swanson, who was on the committee that drafted the ordinance, argued it would help property values. He said there had been many opportunities for public input, and would be another at the next board meeting, so there was no need for a referendum.

Trustee Patrick O’Brien read many e-mails from residents who want to preserve River Forest’s history, and dislike recent architectural decisions made around the community. He said it is extremely important that a historic preservation ordinance be passed so that the village’s heritage can be saved.

The intense feelings and controversy historic preservation can arouse were on full display when the board heard a dispute about construction delays at 559 Ashland.

Paul Harding, the owner of an early Frank Lloyd Wright home on that site, has been renovating the house since early 2005, and the process is taking longer than the village typically allows. Neighbor Susan Reilly complained that Harding’s worksite is unsightly and progress is slow.

Harding responded that carefully restoring a Wright home to accepted standards inevitably takes a great deal of time. He is doing a “noble” thing, he said, because there is nothing in any existing historic preservation code, or even in the village’s proposed ordinance, to stop him from dismantling the Wright home and selling it off piece by piece.

Ultimately, Harding was given until December to complete construction on the home.

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