Historic district designation sought as protection for downtown Libertyville

Maintaining the turn-of-the century look and feel of the commercial area along Milwaukee Avenue in downtown Libertyville is the intent of the village's first proposed historic district.

What that means and why it is being sought will be discussed at 6 p.m. Wednesday at a public open house in advance of a public hearing on the matter at 7 p.m. at village hall, 118 W. Cook Ave.

"It should be interesting. Hopefully, a lot of the owners of the buildings will show up," said Jim Hartshorne, chairman of the village's historic preservation commission.

Designating a historic district would be a first for the community, where the quaint character has been a draw for visitors and is high on the list of attributes for residents.

"They just love the feel of the town and we want to maintain that," Hartshorne said.

As proposed by the commission, the district includes 70 buildings and two parks on either side of Milwaukee Avenue from Newberry Avenue south to Route 176. Of those structures, 41 are 100 years old or older and 23 were built before 1900. Three are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and two are locally designated landmarks.

The area was chosen based on a building survey completed last year by Ramsey Historic Consultants Inc., of Chicago. Information regarding the significance of the properties, benefits of designating a district and other aspects will be made available at the public forum, according to Chris Sandine, associate village planner.

"We're just looking for feedback from the property owners. It's been a couple of years in the works, but we're in a good spot," he said.

While the character of the area has remained largely intact, there has been no guarantee against the demolition of a given building. The village board imposed a moratorium on demolition to protect the commercial area until another mechanism was put into place.

That has been slow going. A historic preservation ordinance was adopted in 2012, but the preservation commission wasn't appointed until October 2014 and the survey wasn't commissioned for another year.

"Other than the moratorium, there's really nothing to protect these buildings from being torn down," Sandine said.

The historic district designation wouldn't prohibit a demolition, he added, but the rationale and appropriateness of what a building would be replaced with would require commission review.

The village board has final say on the historic district application.

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