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A home on Lincoln Avenue designated a landmark by the City in the early ’70s will get new windows despite the denial of a “certificate of appropriateness” by the Preservation Commission. Vinyl windows will replace steel, and double-hung windows will replace some casement windows, changes that prompted the Preservation Commission to deny the application.
City Council granted the appeal when learning that a home’s landmark status is not recorded on real estate records. Several aldermen, and the applicant, said that landmark status was not easy to find. “When I found out that we don’t record [landmark status at the County level], it took me a whole day to get over the shock,” said Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward. He said the City was doing an “extraordinary disservice” to property owners and those looking to become property owners in Evanston. “The only realistic way [to put people on notice as to landmark status] is to record them,” he said.
“The way that we let people know that their house is a landmark is insufficient,” said Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl.
Landmark status brings with it serious restrictions as to renovation, repair and replacement. Most repairs to landmarked buildings require a “certificate of appropriateness” from the Preservation Commission. Replacing hundred-year-old windows is one such repair.
“At no point in the process did we know this was a landmark,” said property owner David Kimbrell. “We were simply not aware of this… Frankly, we probably would not have purchased this home had we known.”
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said the information was available on the City’s website under the “About my place” link. Landmarked properties are also listed directly in the City Code itself, also available online. Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said that about 2,000 properties were landmarked in Evanston.
The City’s Preservation Coordinator Carlos Ruiz said the Preservation Commission learned of the window request when Mr. Kimbrell’s contractor came to the City looking for a building permit allowing for window replacement. Mr. Kimbrell had already purchased replacement windows at the time.
No one could answer the most basic question: why the property was landmarked in the first place. There is no “statement of significance” for the home in question, said Mr. Ruiz. He found two documents listing the property, one of which listed the home as “a significant structure in Illinois,” and another that indicated the home was built by a master builder or architect. The “master builder or architect” was not named in the document.
The result was a home “subject to landmark status that can’t be explained absent a statement of significance,” said Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward.
“I’m going to vote ‘no’ because I promised” to vote no, said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. “But I wish you luck.” Council voted 7-2 to grant the appeal, with Ald. Fiske joining Ald. Rainey’s no.
What comes next is an open question. Recording landmark status notices with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds costs about $40 per document. Council now wrestles with how to pay and who pays for recording, or coming up with another method for publicizing landmark status. Even recorded documents, however, will not explain why one home on Lincoln is a landmark while neighbors on either side, in very similar homes, are not.