Press Release 2022.06.09
Naperville Falls Short on Historic Preservation
A new historic preservation study shows that Naperville ranks far behind most comparable cities in its use of ordinances, incentives and public awareness to protect its historic structures.
Data for the review, “How Naperville Compares on Historic Preservation: A Review,” was compiled by Naperville Preservation Inc. (NPI)
The study compares Naperville’s historic preservation efforts on numerous criteria including:
Does the community allow property owners to block landmark status for their property or does it put this important decision in the hands of the community, elected officials and city staff?
Number of local landmarks
Number of local historic districts
Incentives for property owners and initiatives at the community level
As is the case in many other cities, Naperville’s historic preservation ordinance allows the public to seek landmark protection even if the building’s owners disagree.
Once landmarked, a building cannot be razed unless the City Council grants permission. According to the City’s website, Naperville’s only landmarked buildings are: the Truitt House, 48 E. Jefferson; the Thomas Clow House, 5212 Book Road; the Naperville Woman’s Club, 14 S. Washington; and the Old Nichols Library, 110 S. Washington.
Old Nichols Library, now being renovated into a restaurant, is a successful example of landmark status being granted without owner consent, demonstrating the importance of a city keeping that as an option. The process worked.
The building was saved largely due to the efforts of Save Old Nichols Inc., the group that later re-organized into Naperville Preservation Inc. Now being remodeled into a restaurant, Old Nichols Library is well on its way to being an economic asset in downtown Naperville.
In 2021 Naperville Preservation Inc. filed an application to landmark the Kroehler YMCA building without owner consent, leading to hearings in front of the Historic Preservation Commission and the City Council, which ultimately denied the request for local landmark status.
Although the Kroehler YMCA was not granted local landmark status, once again the process worked. It was successful because it allowed for voices of preservation to be heard before City Council in spite of owner opposition to granting landmark status.
But that opportunity for public input could change if City Council were to revise the ordinance to mandate owner approval of all landmark applications.
Naperville Preservation studied 30 cities. Most allow landmarking without owner permission, including: Aurora; Joliet; Batavia; Geneva; Rockford; Elgin; Lake Forest; Evanston; Libertyville; Oak Park.
When researching best practices, the City of Naperville typically studies similar cities designated as “Benchmark Communities.” In addition to nearby communities such as Aurora, Rockford, and Joliet, these include: Fort Collins, Colo., Plano, Texas; Independence, Mo.; and Scottsdale, Ariz. These benchmark cities allow landmarking without owner permission.
The NPI study also gives examples of incentives—financial and otherwise—that many communities use to encourage preservation of older structures. Incentives include:
Awards and recognition programs (Urbana; Aurora; Joliet; Geneva; Glen Ellyn; Elgin; Oak Park; Highland Park; Fort Collins, Colo.; Independence, Mo.);
Loans and grants (Geneva; St. Charles; Plainfield; Rockford; Aurora; Plano,Texas; Fort Collins, Colo.; Scottsdale, Ariz.);
Tax increment financing (Urbana);
Historic preservation plans (Plano, Texas; Rockford; Independence, Mo.).
This research information is being shared with City staff and City Council members. It is also available on the Naperville Preservation Inc. website, napervillepreservation.org.
“Naperville’s lack of incentives is a challenge to historic preservation in our hometown,” said Becky Simon, Naperville Preservation Inc. president. “For too long, the city has offered only restrictions to homeowners.
“With no awards, grants, or links to funding sources, individual homeowners are left holding the whole burden of preserving a home that–while it is their own property–contributes to the entire city’s reputation as beautiful and quaint.”