Confusion over landmark designated homes sparks reform

Edward Cox, Reporter

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Evanston is striving to make its historic homes more recognizable after two homeowners ran into trouble trying to replace the windows of their landmark residence.

In last Monday’s City Council meeting, Evanston resident David Kimbell secured most aldermen’s support for replacing the windows at his home, 2623 Lincoln St., after the Preservation Commission denied his request. Kimbell said he did not know his home was a designated landmark until he applied for a building permit to replace the home’s windows. Because of their historic significance, landmark homes are subject to a host of regulations for facade renovations.

Preservation Commission member Jack Weiss said the panel wants to make homeowners aware of their residence’s historical status. One possible solution would be stating whether the home is a landmark on its deed, he said.

During the meeting, preservation coordinator Carlos Ruiz touched on the cost of recording more than 2,000 existing landmark homes in Evanston.

Weiss said it was highly unusual that couple’s commission appeal advanced to the City Council. Most of the time, home owners who wish to replace windows in historic homes apply for building permits before purchasing them. Weiss said Kimbell purchased 26 replacement windows worth $70,000 before applying for the building permit. Becky Kimbell said the price for the windows was significantly lower.

“Most people don’t spend money before applying for a permit,” Weiss said. “If he applied for a permit (first) … he might have behaved differently.”

However, Becky Kimbell said the responsibility for filing building permits does not fall on home owners. The family’s contractor, American Thermal Window Products, Inc., was responsible for getting a permit to replace the home’s iron casement windows, which she said posed safety concerns because some of them could not open. A search on the city’s website under “My Places” revealed the home to be landmark designated.

“We very much respect the role of the historic preservation association in Evanston, but people need to know beforehand whether their home is landmark,” Becky Kimbell said.

Information regarding a home’s landmark status should be revealed by a property’s title search company, Evanston broker Noah Seidenberg said. These businesses check whether the home’s previous owners had remaining financial obligations on the property, apportions money to the seller and grants the home’s title to the buyer. Although landmark homes can come with regulations, the status can also raise the value of the home, he said.

“It’s a prestigious thing to have a landmark home,” Seidenberg said. “It’s very unfair for a person to purchase a home and not be notified of this.”

Aldermen voted 7-2 in favor of approving the Kimbells’ appeal. Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) and Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) voted against the petition.

“I’m glad they did hear us out,” Becky Kimbell said. “They were patient. They heard the facts.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled a reference to the last name of Becky Kimbell. The Daily regrets this error.

Email: edwardcox2011@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @EdwardCox16

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