Rainey proposes fix for historic districts

In a move directed at healing rifts in her ward, Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) proposed Monday to limit city oversight of building renovations in national historic districts.

Local preservationists submitted an application over the summer for the proposed Oakton Historic District to be designated on the National Register of Historic Places. But some of the area’s residents have expressed concern that such a designation would impair their ability to renovate their homes.

Rainey’s proposal would eliminate the Preservation Commission’s oversight role of national districts. Though the commission must approve any new building or remodeling in a local historic district, it only provides an advisory opinion in national historic districts when builders request exemptions from zoning law.

If Rainey’s amendment is approved, the commission would not be consulted on buildings located only in national districts.

Rainey spoke out in support of the proposal at the Planning and Development Committee meeting Monday.

“(The district) is very important and would bring excellent reputational baggage to that area,” she said.

Rainey said that some members of the community were dead-set against having the Preservation Commission issue any kind of ruling on their properties.

Although the commission’s current role in national districts is minimal, Rainey said some residents still were convinced that their ability to improve their homes would be limited.

“There is tremendous controversy surrounding the actions of the Preservation Commission,” Rainey said. “There is some kind of … probably unjustified fear of the Preservation Commission.”

Rainey said that the preservationists who initially submitted the application support her amendment. She said she hoped the amendment would unite the community and end neighborhood squabbles that have erupted as a result of the process.

“It’s ugly and it’s unfortunate and I want to help in some way to get beyond the ugliness,” she said.

Rainey’s proposal will be heard by the Evanston Plan Commission before being referred to Evanston City Council.

— Mike Cherney