In a 6-3 vote, the Naperville City Council chose to grant landmark status to the Old Nichols Library against the wishes of the property owner.
That means the Naperville Historic Preservation Commission will now have authority over changes made to the outside of the building.
Before the vote, lawyers representing Dwight Avram, the developer who owns the property, said landmark status would infringe on Avram’s property rights and increase restrictions beyond what he agreed to when purchasing the property.
“Our client, when they looked at the public record, did their analysis, determined that they would be able to live by and honor those deed restrictions,” said Kevin Carrera, an attorney representing the developer. “So they purchased the property and they started the process of the development.”
Before the vote, Avram Builders withdrew their previous development plan in order to work on a plan the community might find acceptable.
The petition to landmark the building was brought forward by Naperville residents Barb Hower and Charlie Wilkins.
“Some legacies reside in the tales of who we are and what we did,” said Hower. “But it also resides in the buildings that make up Naperville. We need to consider how this will affect the community five, 10, 20 or more years down the road. If there are too many teardowns there won’t be much of our history and essence to hand over to the next generation.”
Mayor Steve Chirico tried to block the vote by invoking council rules allowing any council member to postpone a vote for two weeks.
But Chirico was overruled, and the decision went to a vote with Councilmen Benjamin White and Kevin Coyne dissenting along with Chirico.
“I think we are undertaking and going down a road that has no historical precedent for our community,” said Coyne. “I find that very much unsettling. I think that we have not yet exhausted all the options to us in this case. I don’t think we’ve even started.”
Forty people spoke during the public comment period from union workers supporting development and jobs it brings to long time residents wanting to honor history of the town and its unique blend of old and new.
Supporters of the vote said options are still open with landmark status in place.
“I don’t want to see behind-closed-doors deals,” said Councilman Paul Hinterlong. “Landmark it and the whole community can be a part of its repurposing.”
“I don’t see landmarking as something that is a burden,” said Councilwoman Judith Brodhead.
But Chirico said a business that was interested in taking the building and moving it to an empty lot next to the current Nichols Library is no longer interested because landmark status passed.
“Going through the landmark, going through historic preservation commission to do your rebuild, would be just too much brain damage,” said Chirico. “Also they indicated that they couldn’t get financing for it if it’s landmarked.”
Some residents expressed concerns that the city would open itself up to lawsuits by landmarking property against the owner’s wishes.
But the city attorney said he believes legal action would be unsuccessful because the property owner would not be deprived of all beneficial uses of the site.
Naperville News 17’s Beth Bria reports.
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