Pleas to save old Naperville library come to council

Naperville's first library is no longer a haven for books, but a relative of the man whose donation established it says it still has great value as part of the city's legacy.

Dolle Nichols, great-granddaughter of library benefactor James Lawrence Nichols, got a bit teary as she read an essay Tuesday to the Naperville City Council, begging members to "maintain and respect our past so we may truly appreciate our future."

"Please save the old Nichols Library," Nichols said. "That old building represents something very important - and not just to me."

The 119-year-old brick and stone structure at 110 S. Washington St. is the subject of a redevelopment proposal by new owner Dwight Avram. His company, Avram Builders, intends to turn the property into an 80,000-square-foot, four-story collection of shops, restaurants, offices, condos and parking.

Avram says plans would honor Nichols and his contributions by incorporating the old building's facade and vestibule into the new structure and creating a public gallery of its history.

Preservationists, represented Tuesday by Nichols, Gail Diedrichsen and Carey Caylor, say the city will live to regret allowing this image of its past to disappear, taking with it some of the downtown's quaint charm.

"It's important that we don't tear down historic buildings that were built with hard labor and love," Caylor said.

As the city weighs what to do with the former library, which has been used as Truth Lutheran Church since the city sold the property in the 1990s, two requests are under consideration.

One request seeks local landmark status for the building, which would protect it from any exterior changes visible from the street by requiring city review and a certificate of appropriateness before such alterations could be made.

The other request, filed by Avram Builders, seeks a variance from the floor-area ratio of the city's zoning code, which effectively regulates how much building can be put on a lot of a certain size.

The city's planning and zoning commission is scheduled to consider the variance request during a meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 2. But the historic preservation commission isn't likely to begin its review of the landmark status application until Aug. 22.

Council member Becky Anderson said she's concerned that order could create a bias, and the landmark application should take precedence.

City code prohibits any work from occurring on the exterior of the building while the landmark request is pending, said Allison Laff, deputy director of transportation, engineering and development. But that doesn't prevent the developer from putting forth plans for consideration and asking for permission to bend zoning rules.

Mayor Steve Chirico said he's comfortable with the order in which the discussion is progressing.

During Nichols' speech in the meeting's public comment period, Chirico asked her a question to allow her to continue speaking past the three-minute time limit. He called her tale of the library's importance to Naperville a "sweet story."

Ultimately, Chirico said, the fate of the old Nichols Library is a council decision, and he's sure members will have all the information they need to make up their minds when the time comes.

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Great-granddaughter of James Nichols begs Naperville to preserve his legacy library

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