It’s unquestionable that the generous inventory of distinctive architecture in River Forest lends character and beauty and tradition to this village. So I am thankful that the River Forest trustees have made efforts to preserve that tradition by creating and steering a Historic Preservation Commission (HPC). As with any initiative though, revisions become necessary. It seems preservation efforts could be more proactive and realistic in the village, particularly regarding the efforts made to save “significant properties” from demolition.
In terms of being realistic, it needs to be considered that if the village is getting applications to demolish a property, that means buyers see demolition as the highest and best use for the property, or that there is a lack of buyers interested in taking on the effort and work required to rehab the property. The first step is to see this and be realistic about the market and what type of buyers you are getting. The wish may be for rehab buyers, but if the reality is teardown buyers, then you have to face the reality.
In terms of being proactive, if the village sees lots of these scenarios, a proactive approach might be to put together incentive programs that help buyers who are willing to rehab vs. raze, financially or otherwise, to navigate the process of restoring the home. If so, they would need to have these programs in place before the property is on the market, as well as maybe some ways to attract those buyers to these properties.
Maybe this includes a combination of grant money, tax incentives, etc. Maybe there would be programs to work with the sellers of these homes to encourage the marketing to include information about the property’s designation as significant. The idea is that the village proactively finds ways to save the property.
If those or other efforts on behalf of the village turn out to be unrealistic or unworkable, then we may need to accept the fact that a “teardown” buyer is all we have for a certain property and live with it.
One thing is for sure, that if you have a “teardown” buyer and you try to force them through an HPC application to magically become a “rehab” buyer, you are set up for failure and disappointment. That is the unrealistic and non-proactive system we have in place now. The reality is that the owner has come in as a “teardown” buyer and has already made those plans and isn’t going to change them, and the relationship of HPC to the owner, who may be a village resident, is fated to be uncomfortable and unproductive, especially for the owner, who has to be dragged through applications, meetings, hearings, and unwanted publicity and attention.
This makes for a juicy article or two in the newspaper but accomplishes nothing. The process is guaranteed to make everybody at least a little unhappy. Let’s be more realistic. Let’s either figure out more proactive solutions to find other buyers or let’s accept the buyer we get without putting them through the wringer for exercise, especially when the buyer is a village resident.
John Grant is a resident of River Forest.