First historic district approved in Libertyville
Visitors to downtown Libertyville won't immediately notice any difference in a streetscape filled with century-old buildings and quaint features, and a long-sought designation has been added to keep it that way.
Village officials this week approved the Downtown Libertyville Historic District composed of 70 buildings and two parks mainly along Milwaukee Avenue in a bustling area filled with a variety of non-chain shops and restaurants.
"We've got something special, and it's our responsibility to protect that in some way," said Mike Kollman, a local architect and member of the village's historic preservation commission.
The downtown historic district does not include any residential properties. Basically, the designation allows for review of any proposed exterior changes or demolition of structures.
"It puts a check and balance in," said Fred Kestler, chairman of MainStreet Libertyville, a nonprofit development and preservation group.
Up to this point, the village's appearance review commission has dealt with proposed exterior changes, such as signs or facades, to commercial structures. In the downtown area, that responsibility now falls to the historic preservation commission.
"It's a different type of regulation -- more historic-themed if you will," said Chris Sandine, associate village planner.
The preservation commission will review any application for exterior change within the historic district and offer a recommendation to the village board, he added.
The recommendation is advisory, with the village board making the final determination. If approved at that level, a "certificate of appropriateness" will be issued.
The historic district generally runs from Newberry Avenue south to Route 176. Of the structures in the designated area, 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.
Village officials worried that some of the downtown assets could be torn down several years ago enacted and continued a moratorium on issuing demolition permits, which was all that was needed to proceed.
That has been lifted with the establishment of the historic district.
"It really protects the character of the area from demolition," Kollman said. Although demolition is not prohibited, property owners wanting to go that route need to have the proposed replacement reviewed.
"You are forced to show what is going to replace something rather than just tearing down a building," Sandine said.
Character and heritage have always been considered assets by village officials and residents. But it wasn't until 2012, with the passage of a historic preservation ordinance, that anything dealing specifically with those characteristics was enacted.
And it wasn't until two years later that commissioners were appointed and actual work began.
Besides designating three local landmarks, commissioners recommended a historical survey of buildings be done. The findings of Ramsey Historic Consultants Inc. of Chicago are the basis for the historic district boundary.
Proponents of historic districts cite higher property values and rates of appreciation as benefits.
Federal tax credits up to 20 percent of a restoration project would potentially be available to any property within the district placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which could be a future consideration, Kollman said.