Ironically, next week's election has two neighboring towns, Winnetka and Kenilworth, IL, with referendums on historic homes - another attempt at dealing with the teardown/McMansion issue. Preservationists have decried for years that their villages are changing irrevocably for the worse while others champion for property rights and the freedom and ability to sell to whomever they please.
Kenilworth is undeniably a unique town - envisioned and built over 100 years ago by Joseph Sears whose specifications included large lots with quality construction. The completed look was one of stately homes that were large but left plenty of open green space around them and between neighbors. Many were built by noted architects such as Daniel and Franklin Burnham and George Mayer while much landscaping was done by Jens Jensen.
But inevitably, the old houses could not keep up with modernity and slowly the demolitions began. So slowly at first that nobody noticed, just a few residents building new homes for themselves. But when the builders and investors arrived, the village began to take note and the preservations began the rallying cry. Beginning on December 24, 2004, the village imposed a 6-month moratorium on all demolitions and major renovations.
Then in 2006 The National Trust for Historic Preservation announced that the village had been placed on its annual list of 11 Most Endangered Place. This has prompted the current advisory referendum for Nov. 4 that states "nominate all of the lands and structures within its municipal boundaries, regardless of private or public ownership, for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places." The "Winnetka Talk" opined on the matter Oct. 9 by urging residents to vote NO on the ballot and said "Although inclusion on the National Register is strictly honorary and contains no regulations, opponents of the referendum proposal say the national designation could prompt efforts to impose strict regulations on property owners." Also, a technicality occurred when the school board asked that the Joseph Sears School be left out of the historic district.
In Winnetka, homeowners themselves have drafted two referenda addressing a Landmark Law. And as in Kenilworth, the law, if passed, is advisory only and will not obligate the village to follow the wishes of the voters. WHOA, (Winnetka Home Owners Association) published and mailed a 24-page newsletter to Winnetka households detailing the cons of the measure.
Basically, it is a zoning measure that WHOA believes "is enacting stiff preservation rules and zoning rules that will prevent people from tearing down or impede ability to rehab their properties for the sake of historic preservation." So in essence, the two referendum questions ask 1) if the Village Council shall submit proposed changes to the voluntary Landmark Law before making changes, and 2) shall the village opt out of Property Assessment Tax Programs for landmark homes.
WHOA, the Winnetka Talk, and the former Assessor are advocating a YES vote for both the questions. They have said that property tax assessment freeze hurts all taxpayers by making residents pay for the slack in tax revenues. WHOA also published a two-page list of address that they say were targeted for landmark status.
Proponents of the landmark legislation say that preservation helps the community overall. The law would let the village council know that they could explore some options in preservation and a NO vote would show that the community is no so deadset against some sort of landmark status. Preservations strongly feel that Winnetka's charm lies in its lovely old homes that you don't see much anymore. Regarding the tax burden, it's not completely clear what the additional amount to non-landmarked home owners would be, but they feel that it would be insignificant and would ultimately be worth the cost to have some of these historic homes preserved. In any case, a NO vote would be non-binding and would probably not pile on burdensome regulations.
We have a very special heritage on the North Shore - our old homes. Some people love the detailing, charm and quirkiness of them, others cannot be bothered and prefer new construction. As a realtor, I also love them but have been inside enough of them to know the challenges of renovation. A client who completely gutted and restored an old Kenilworth home told me they would never do it again . . ."better to raze it and start over. . ."