The Naperville City Council voted 6-3 Tuesday night to designate the old Nichols Library as a local landmark, against the wishes of the owner of the property.
The landmark designation means any exterior changes to the 119-year-old building at 110 S. Washington St. will require a certificate of appropriateness, which can be granted by the city's historic preservation commission.
Representatives of property owner Dwight Avram said before the vote that landmark status would be a "proverbial nuclear option" that would hamper their efforts to work with the community to both preserve the historic structure, possibly in a new location, and present a viable mixed-use development.
But supporters of making the building a landmark say they want those compromise conversations to continue -- in the open, instead of through talks among elected officials and businesspeople. They say the additional level of review created by the designation will increase transparency.
"Landmark it and the whole community can be part of its repurposing," council member Paul Hinterlong said. "A building of this importance needs the extra scrutiny in the process."
The vote came against the feelings of Mayor Steve Chirico and council members Kevin Coyne and Benjamin White.
Chirico said he wanted to find an alternative option to preserve the city's first library, potentially on the grassy site immediately west of its current library at 200 W. Jefferson Ave. But he said the motivation to pursue those options is gone with landmark status in place.
"The problem is there's no more reason to compromise because then the historic preservation commission is in control," he said.
Approving landmark status without delay sets new rules for future development on the site, but it also gives certainty that the city wants the Richardsonian Romanesque building to be preserved, council member Rebecca Boyd-Obarski said.
"If we can see this change happen within the parameters of landmark status, it will be truly dynamic," she said. "Truly good adaptive repurposing is once again going to put Naperville on the map."
Several speakers among 40 members of the public who voiced opinions brought up concerns about property rights, the constitutionality of landmarking the building against its owner's wishes, and the risk of future legal action.
But City Attorney Mike DiSanto said if a lawsuit were filed, it would be "unlikely to be successful" if the city can prove officials aren't depriving the property owner of all beneficial uses of the site.
Approving landmark status satisfies an application filed in June by Naperville residents Barb Hower and Charlie Wilkins.
But it leaves the building's future uncertain after current user Truth Lutheran Church vacates it in a few months to move to a new worship space on the north side of town.
After the vote, Avram said he had no comment.