Libertyville moves ahead with historic preservation plan
Libertyville leaders long have touted the heritage of their community, including some old homes and vintage commercial buildings that date to the late 1800s.
But until last week when a historic preservation commission was appointed, there was no official program in place to preserve that aspect of the community fabric.
Technically there still isn't, as the new seven-member panel will first have to survey properties and identify those that deserve possible landmark designation or preservation.
"We first have to determine what buildings we're going to include, but we are going to start with the downtown area," said Jim Hartshorne, a building inspector who was appointed chairman by Mayor Terry Weppler. "We have to have our first meeting to lay out what we really want to do."
That's expected to take some time. To protect any historically significant buildings from being demolished before then, the village board enacted a moratorium until April 28 on demolition permits pertaining to the exterior walls and roofs of commercial and industrial buildings in and around the downtown area.
There has been sporadic interest in an official preservation process, but it has taken more than a decade to get to this point.
In the bigger picture, the character of Libertyville inevitably is mentioned as selling point. Prompted by a growing number of teardowns -- replacing older, smaller homes with new homes -- a group of business and civic leaders in 2004 led by the MainStreet Libertyville downtown revitalization organization assembled a historic preservation ordinance, but no action was taken.
Village leaders, fearing significant downtown buildings could be torn down without rules in place, created a committee in 2009 to consider the matter. A historic preservation ordinance was approved in 2012. However, the commission that would formulate and carry out the guidelines and make recommendations to the village board was not appointed at that time.
Interest again rekindled with the recent demolition by the First Presbyterian Church of a home built in 1900 at 212 W. Maple Ave.
"We never put the commission together to develop the rules because we didn't have volunteers willing to fill the positions at the time," Weppler said. "A lot of it dealt with the concern over 212 Maple," he said of the recent appointments.
Eventually, the process to designate buildings, structures or areas having "special historical, community or aesthetic interest or value" as landmarks will be in place. So, too, will rules governing construction, alteration and demolition of landmarks or structures within designated historic districts.
"Libertyville does have some great history. We've got some great old buildings," Hartshorne said. "But there are some old buildings that aren't worth saving. The ones that are, we should try and save if we can."
The historic preservation commission would be the entity to consider how that will play out. It would hold public hearings or meetings regarding applications and decide whether to issue or deny a "certificate of appropriateness" for each application.
That has the potential to become sticky.
"You're basically blanketing the property with another layer of protection," said John Spoden, the village's community development director.
"Can it be controversial down the road? Yes," he added. "If it's a local landmark, then there is a process."
Spoden said he already has received interest in the landmark designation and hopes to have applications available by the end of the year.
"It's more geared to the downtown. That's our bread and butter," Weppler said. "We don't want to start telling people what they can and can't do on residential."