For more than a year, the study and deliberations over putting teeth into the village’s conservation efforts have been central to the work of the Historic Preservation Commission.

Now village trustees are slated to vote March 14 on amendments to the historic preservation ordinance that could put River Forest in the “middle ground” of communities engaged in a similar process.

Unveiled during a public hearing on Feb. 22, these amendments would affect the 296 architecturally and historically significant homes noted in a survey conducted by two noted historic architects. 

Criteria used in the survey, presented in 2013, were set by the U.S. Department of the Interior and are used to evaluate whether homes should be on the National Register of Historic Places.

One of the proposed amendments would require the owner of a significant property to discuss its proposed demolition before the Historic Preservation Commission and allow for comments and suggestions on alternatives to razing the structure.

Another amendment, which was the focal point of considerable discussion on Feb. 22, would require a delay of up to 180 days to find that alternative, such as finding another buyer.  

If no alternative is found, a permit to raze the structure could be issued. The 180-day clock would start from the date a completed application is filed with the village until a final decision is issued by village trustees.

“If no one steps forward, if there is no reasonable alternative, we’ve had community input and the market has spoken, so be it,” said Dave Franek, the Historic Preservation Commission’s chairman.

Village President Catherine Adduci said the delay would allow the community and neighbors to have input on finding an alternative.

“A delay is an investment in our community,” said Adduci, who favors the amendments. “The delay will not prevent or deny a homeowner a demolition permit, but it says ‘my home is worth something to the community and I’m willing to give it some time to see if we can keep a significant property.’ A homeowner is investing a little more time for a gem to stay a gem.”

Board members, for the most part, took on both sides of the debate during a more than two-hour public hearing attended by about 30 residents.

Only Trustee Tom Dwyer seemed more interested in dropping the entire discussion.

“I don’t think we should do anything further. Keep it as is and be done with it,” Dwyer said. “I’m not interested in changing anything. … This is an inappropriate use of our time.”

Trustee Susan Conti, who said she was a “big admirer” of the Historic Preservation Commission, strongly favored tightening up the ordinance, but wanted some clarity around the process of an appeal to the board.  The ultimate result would be demolition. 

Satisfied with that clarification, Conti said “this is a really reasonable proposal.”

Trustee Mike Gibbs, though, wanted owners of significant properties listed as essential to the community’s character to be able to remove themselves from the list.

So, too, did Trustee Carmela Corsini, who noted that there should be a process to save significant homes, but opposed putting stricter regulations on owners of historically significant properties.

“There’s a fine line between the village imposing its will on property owners,” said Corsini, who suggested that the village should consider restricting owners of larger properties to subdivide their lots to curb tear-downs.

Residents echoed both points of view. Jim Blaha and former Village Trustee Jim Winikates, among others, said the amendments usurped a homeowner’s ability to do whatever they wanted with their property.

Blaha said the definition of a significant property is subjective and arbitrary and suggested that significant properties should be homes that reflected some form of historic significance to River Forest or represent the works of masters such as Frank Lloyd Wright and William Drummond.

“I don’t believe people are talking about a 1950s ranch,” said Blaha, whose home is not on the significant properties list. “If we redefined local landmark to include those things, we would protect historic treasures we want and not restrict property owners’ rights on too broad a basis.” 

Winikates, whose home is on the list, said it wasn’t a fair process and not a model of good government. 

“The process that the HPC proposed is closer to what you’d find in a dictatorship, not a democracy,” he said.

But Carlotta Lucchesi and Kristine Raino-Ogden, whose homes are on the list, favored the protections. Lucchesi didn’t think the changes were strong enough. 

“We’re talking about the need to preserve our culture and heritage,” she said.

Raino-Ogden said the discussion about property owners was ignoring the property rights of the neighbors. 

“If one of the homes that added flavor to my block were torn down, that would affect the value of my home,” Raino-Ogden said. “We live here not because we want to get the most bang for our buck but for the flavor of the village. Sometimes the rights of one have to cede to the rights of the community. You have to carefully weigh that we don’t infringe on the rights of anyone.”

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