Historic preservation commission represents new approach in Antioch
Antioch is taking a new approach to raise community interest in protecting historic structures for future generations.
A newly-appointed historic preservation commission is the foundation for what village officials hope becomes a community resource for information and guidance.
The commission was created about two years ago when the village zoning ordinance was updated. But it remained an idea on paper until recently when five community members were appointed.
With an advisory commission in place, Antioch has a mechanism to help those interested in preserving historic properties. However, Antioch's panel initially will deal only with voluntary submissions.
"For the first time, it provides a way to protect structures for people who want to protect their buildings," said Michael Garrigan, the village's community development director.
"People talk about the charm of Antioch, the history of Antioch, and there are buildings worthy of preservation," he added.
Building owners can seek the protection by applying for local landmark status. Garrigan emphasized no village requirements or directives regarding landmarking are forthcoming.
"No property can be landmarked without the owner's consent," he said. "Our goal is to work with building owners who want to landmark their properties," he added.
Without that designation, the village now has no recourse if an owner wanted to demolish or substantially alter the appearance of a home, he said.
Preservation commissions are common in the Chicago area, and across Illinois and the nation, according to Bonnie McDonald, president and CEO of Landmarks Illinois, an advocate for historic preservation.
"These commissions provide a valuable service by ensuring a community's history is understood, preserved and shared, and enhancing the sense of place that is unique to that community," she said.
Generally, such commissions review proposed projects and make recommendations to the community's governing body. Depending on the enabling ordinance, commissions can have varying levels of responsibility and power.
Because downtown Libertyville is a designated historic district, the village's historic preservation commission, for example, reviews and makes recommendations on whether a proposed demolition or substantial alteration in the area merits a "certificate of appropriateness."
In fall 2019, that commission rejected a request to demolish the Liberty Theater and the village board agreed. The building since has been sold and no plans have surfaced.
A commission's guidelines for review can vary by degree and sometimes are controversial. The potential scope of its oversight is detailed.
"It was a lot of information quickly," Ainsley Wonderling, Antioch historic preservation commission's chair and director of the Lakes Region Historical Society museum, said of the commission's first meeting Aug. 2.
Garrigan said there is an economic benefit for owners to restore their properties. For example, a federal tax credit of 20% of the renovation cost is available for an eligible project.
"I realistically think we could see landmarks in the next year or so," he said.
The starting point in evaluating properties will be a "windshield survey" to identify historic structures.
"Not every property is historic," Garrigan said. "Sometimes properties are just old."
The plan is to build an inventory of structures with information such as the type of architecture, significant characteristics and other factors to see if it would qualify as historically significant based on certain parameters.
"Education is going to be a big part of it. Why is it important to learn about these structures, the people who lived there or the events that took place there?" Wonderling said.
Garrigan stressed the survey will not intrude on private owners' property rights.
Eventually, historical information and photos of various structures may be posted online.
Garrigan, Wonderling and others agree history is a big part of the village, particularly the downtown area, and could play a role in future marketing or initiatives.
The village has seen interest in preservation grow in the past four years -- $194,000 in facade grants have been dispersed for 10 downtown projects.
Its facade grant program operates under "basic principles of historic preservation," Garrigan said. There are no mandates but applicants are encouraged to restore the original appearance as much as possible.