WIN: City Approves Steep Fines to End “Demolition by Neglect”

The real estate markets in the Old Town and East Ukrainian Village Chicago Landmark Districts have gotten so desirable that developers are willing to pay huge amounts for vacant lots to build multi-family housing, according to 2nd Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins. And when no vacant lots exist, some unethical developers have found a loophole which allows demolition of historic homes in Chicago Landmark Districts. If a historic building condition becomes so decayed that it possesses a threat to safety, then a demolition can be granted. Alderman Hopkins said he is aware of instances where property owners have “intentionally allowed a building to get into a state of degraded condition” before saying “it has to be demolished because it’s a hazard to the community.” (Hauser, Block Club Chicago, April 3, 2018)

In response, the ordinance introduced by Alderman Hopkins and approved by the City Council allows the City of Chicago to fine property owners up to $2,000 per day for willfully allowing the deterioration of historic properties or contributing buildings within Landmark Districts and this ordinance doubles the moratorium on new construction that the City of Chicago can impose to 10 years.

Vacant lots are consistently more valuable within protected Chicago Landmark Districts. The difference in value is due to the surrounding context of an intact historic district. Historic neighborhoods are places where people want to live which drives up demand. Also, future owners are more willing to invest in protected historic neighborhoods with the knowledge that “feel of the neighborhood” will be protected against overwhelming demolition and new construction.

In the case of Old Town in particular, one of the things that drives its property value is the sense of historic charm in the area,” Alderman Hopkins said. “It just looks like a really special place, and one of the reasons it’s a special place is because it does have a higher concentration of older buildings. So that needs to be preserved just to keep that quality of life that attracts people to Old Town in the first place.” (Bryne, Chicago Tribune, April 12, 2018)

According to Alderman Brian Hopkins, the markets in the historic districts of Old Town and East Ukrainian Village have gotten so hot that developers are willing to pay huge amounts to build multi-family homes.

There is one loophole which allows demolition of historic homes in Chicago landmark districts. If a historic building condition is so decayed that it possesses a threat to safety, then demolition can be granted. Alderman Hopkins said he’s found instances where property owners have “intentionally allowed a building to get into a state of degraded condition” before saying “it has to be demolished because it’s a hazard to the community.” (Hauser, Block Club Chicago, April 3, 2018)

The ordinance by Alderman Hopkins would allow the city to fine property owners up to $2,000 per day for willfully allowing the deterioration of historic properties or contributing buildings within landmark districts. Existing ordinance allows the city to impose a 5 year moratorium on new construction, but this ordinance increases it to 10 years in certain instances.

Ward Miller of Preservation Chicago, Lisa DiChiera of Landmarks Illinois, and Allan Mellis, a dedicated community activist, testified before the Committee in support of this ordinance. We applaud Alderman Hopkins for his leadership on this preservation sensitive ordinance. It will help to maintain the integrity of historic Chicago Landmark Districts and discourage profit-oriented developers from abusing the Landmark District Ordinance.

Additional Reading

City could try to protect historic Chicago buildings from intentional neglect, John Byrne, Chicago Tribune, April 12, 2018

Owners of Landmarked Buildings Could Pay Big For Neglecting Properties, Aliasa Hauser, Block Club Chicago, April 3, 2018

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