Preservation Chicago’s Policy Goals
“Chicago needs a bigger toolbox,” said Ward Miller, Executive Director of Preservation Chicago, “and it needs a City Council committed to legislation that will place the burden of proof on developers to make the case for why they should be permitted to erase our historic built environment.”
There are limited tools to save historic and significant buildings and not enough staff in the City to administer them.
After all, historic buildings are part of our cultural heritage which the world comes to Chicago to visit. It’s a large part of tourism for Chicago and a big income generator for our city.
There is a 90-day demolition delay on buildings that are red- or orange-rated in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey which was completed and published in 1996. The challenge with that is there is no burden of proof the developer needs to make in those 90 days that his or her building must come down. They just wait, and the preservation community – overwhelmed by daily threats to buildings – has 90 days to get a save. We have 90 days to convince the developer to change their mind or sell to a preservation-minded developer (if one can be found) or to convince the City and elected officials that the building meets the criteria for a Chicago Landmark designation.
There is Landmark designation – either for a single building or an entire district. That designation is effective, but there are only so many Landmarks that City staff can process in a single year. And not every building worth saving rises to the level of a Chicago Landmark. There are incentives that come along with Landmarked building, but many of those are unattainable for lower-income homeowners.
Preservation Chicago’s policy advocacy agenda for the coming years includes:
- Demolition fee ordinance. Make demolition cost-prohibitive, with exceptions for people experiencing hardship or for a building that is a life and safety threat.
- Longer demolition delays and for a broader category of buildings. Some great historic buildings were not included in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey or were given a lesser color coding like green. These all should be protected. Extended to 90 day demolition delay to 180 or 360 days would significantly improve outcomes.
- Conservation Districts. Landmarks Illinois has been leading an effort to create a conservation district ordinance in Chicago. This would allow greater protections for buildings that define the character of Chicago but may not meet the Chicago Landmark criteria.
- Update the Chicago Historic Resource Survey. It has been nearly 25 years since the last survey was published. It is time to invest in reassessing our built environment.
- Increase Landmark Division staff. So much of the business of protecting important buildings and places rests in this hard-working but severely understaffed department. While the staff work diligently and tirelessly to get done what they can, they need more help to expand capacity to protect our architectural treasures.
- Right-Sized Zoning. Modify zoning to match the existing historic buildings would reduce incentives to demolish or deconvert buildings.
“I long for the day when developers value history as much as their return on investment,” Miller said, “But until then we need to grow our tools to protect what we know and love about Chicago.”,” said Ward Miller, Executive Director at Preservation Chicago.
“We need a City that makes it really hard to wreck a historic building. We need a City that puts preservation first and foremost and encourages a reinvestment in these fine, quality buildings.
“Investment in our historic buildings and Landmarks IS development — and the most sensitive type of development,” Miller said.