A. What is a Historic District?
Historic districts are designated areas containing historic buildings deemed significant to a city’s cultural fabric. Properties in historic districts are valued for their historical associations or architectural quality and are worth protecting because they are a virtue to the special and unique personality of the city. The primary planning goal of a historic district should be to preserve the richness of the past while providing continuity with the present and future.
There are two types of historic districts. The first is a national historic district. National historic districts are placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register is the official Federal list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture. National Register properties have significance to the history of their community state, or the nation.
Nominations for listing historic properties come from various sources, including private organizations like CoHo. A professional review board in each state considers each property proposed for listing and makes a recommendation on its eligibility. Generally speaking, property owner in a national historic district can do whatever they want with their property as long as there are no Federal monies attached to the property.
The second type of historic district is a local historic district. These districts are designated under a city’s preservation ordinance. The City of Berwyn has a preservation ordinance that allows for the designation of historic districts. Under Berwyn’s preservation ordinance, property owners in a historic district must obtain a “certificate of appropriateness” from the Berwyn Historic Preservation Commission before making any improvement that will impact the historic character of the property.
At this time, there are no designated historic districts on either the National Register or under the Berwyn preservation ordinance.
B. Why Create a Historic District in Berwyn?
There are numerous recognized advantages to establishing a historic district, including:
- Historic districts protect the investments of owners and residents. Buyers know that the aspects that make a particular area attractive will be protected over a period of time. Real estate agents in many cities use historic district status as a marketing tool to sell properties.
- Historic districts encourage better design. It has been shown through comparative studies that there is a greater sense of relatedness, more innovative use of materials, and greater public appeal within historic districts than in areas without historic designations.
- Historic districts help the environment. Historic district revitalization can, and should, be part of a comprehensive environmental policy.
- The educational benefits of creating historic districts are the same as those derived from any historic preservation effort. Historic districts can help explain the development of a place, the source of inspiration, and technological advances. They are a record of ourselves and our communities.
- A historic district can result in a positive economic impact from tourism. A historic district that is aesthetically cohesive and well promoted can be a community’s most important attraction. The retention of historic areas as a way to attract tourist dollars makes good economic sense.
- The protection of historic districts can enhance business recruitment potential. Companies continually re-locate to communities that offer their workers a higher quality of life, which is greatly enhanced by successful local preservation programs and stable historic districts.
- Historic districts provide social and psychological benefits. A sense of empowerment and confidence develops when community decisions are made through a structured participatory process rather than behind closed doors or without public comment.
Our City Council and the Berwyn Development Corporation have recognized the potential of historic districts in our City through the Comprehensive Plan, adopted by City Council in October 2012. The Comprehensive Plan pointed out that while the City has been more aggressive in promoting and preserving itshistoric structures in recent years, the City needs additional preservationefforts.
The Comprehensive plan pointed out that creating a historic district in this area will provide many benefits not currently available to homeowners. Currently, homeowners in Berwyn must actively apply to the City’s Historic Preservation Commission for landmark designation of their home in order to access the Illinois Property Tax Assessment Freeze. Homeowners within a local historic district, by contrast, would be able to skip the local landmark designation process and proceed with an application to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA), provided that their home meets the other designation criteria.
C. Who is involved and overseeing this project.
In addition to the oversight by the City of Homes Board and the Mayor’s Office, Berwyn’s City Council has created a National Historic Nomination Ad-hoc Committee for oversight of this project comprised of the following members:
City of Homes Organization Representatives:
- Alicia Ruiz
- Christina Shorner
- Alderman Santoy (also serves as “sponsor” from the city council)
Berwyn Historic Preservation Commission Representatives:
- Nasri AbiMansour
- Emilio Padilla
- Michael Plummer
- Brian Brock
- Linda Gutfeld
- Elizabeth Kurr
This group of knowledgeable committee members will:
- Draft agendas and schedule committee meetings on an as needed basis and in compliance with the Open Meetings Act.
- Evaluate the 3 sealed bids and make a recommendation for approval to the City Council at a future meeting.
- Oversee the work being conducted by the chosen consultant.
- Ensure that all aspects of the grant are being met.
- Report back to the council with a final status, district designation adoption, etc.
D. What Can I do to help create the Proposed Historic District?
CoHo is an Illinois not-for-profit corporation dedicated to promoting the preservation, redevelopment, adaptive reuse and continued viability of Berwyn’s historic housing stock and in making Berwyn the primary destination in the Chicago area for families and individuals seeking an affordable, walkable, location-efficient and transit orientated community. We need your financial support since the grant covers 70% of the project cost, and the City of Homes Organization is committed to cover 30% and other additional costs. You can also help up by being informed, following us on facebook,or joining our mailing list.
E. Map of the proposed district