To Landmark Or Not, The Original Nichols Library Building; Part Two

Occasionally the heart says one thing, and the head says something diametrically opposite. Watchdog’s last posting was written from the heart, whereas this one is coming from the head. Only time will tell which one is more correct than the other. Such was the case with the Water Street District project. Watchdog was strongly opposed to the concept, and I must admit that thus far the project has turned out awesome. That could still change as the area builds up and out, but as for now, the Water Street Project is looking pretty good.

Just as it would have been really nice to save Joe Naper’s home, it would really be wonderful to save the original Nichols Library building, but at what cost are we willing to fight to save it. Maybe it’s possible to save it without a legal fight, but only if it’s not deemed a landmark by the City of Naperville. That may sound counter-intuitive, but so does letting Obamacare collapse in order to ‘save’ the healthcare system.

One of the two individuals leading the charge to designate the original Nichols Library (ONL) as a historic landmark is Charles Wilkins; councilwoman Becky Anderson-Wilkin’s son. She is the city council liaison to the library board. Anderson is also the council liaison to the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), which will be advising the city council on the landmark status of the ONL. There is another player on the other side, Kevin Peterson. He has been on the historic preservation commission for several years. He lives in the HPC district and was recently appointed to the chair of the commission by Mayor Chirico. Peterson is also the architect of the proposed new development. As a result, he will have to recuse himself from the deliberations, but Anderson does not have to. As the liaison to the HPC, Anderson is not a voting member, however she will have a huge influence on the commission.

The first hurdle is the designation on the historical landmark status. Here comes the kicker. If the HPC advises that the city council designate ONL as a landmark without the property owner’s consent, it is a guaranteed lawsuit. Take a moment to read that last sentence again. Case law supports the City, but even if the City wins the lawsuit, it will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend, and if the City loses, it will cost millions. Take a moment to re-read that last sentence also. The City of Naperville and taxpaying residents can ill-afford another lawsuit with other lawsuits currently on the runway.

Some lawsuits are simply bad luck, some are bad judgement, and some are bad policy, but none of the lawsuits were the result of the city council knowingly making a decision that would place the taxpayers at risk. If the City wants to derail the project, why put the taxpayers at risk of another lawsuit? All the city council has to do is vote ‘no’ on the variance requests and it’s over with no risk. The historic landmark status designation without the owner’s support is a train wreck waiting to happen; a total disaster.

If the preservationists of Naperville want to preserve this building they could raise the money. Our community is very resourceful, so if the community wants to save the building, it can be done. If folks are not willing to write a check or do what’s necessary to save the building, then maybe it is not that important to our residents.

If this project makes it past the landmark status issue, the next hurdle is planning and zoning, followed finally by the city council. Let’s hope that all those involved will make a wise decision.

Show 8 Comments


  1. Gerard H Schilling

    Bob, What’s the matter with you? By simply saying no which is easy and straight foreword you will be depriving the thriving and connected legal profession in Naperville of thousands in nonsensical legal fees paid for by you guessed it we overburdened tax payers. So what else is new?

  2. mike

    Completely agree. Keep the covenants which existed when he bought the property in place.

  3. Jim Haselhorst

    There seem to be a misconception here. The belief that the city council voting no on this project will kill it and prevent a lawsuit. This simply is not true. The city has voted against projects in the past and the landowner sued the city in court to force the issue. Yes this is and expensive way to get what the landowner wants, but if a landowner is convince that no matter what they do, the city will say no, they really have no other choice. And before you say the landowner will never win it is important to remember that in past lawsuits against the city by landowners, the city has lost and the landowner was able to do what they wanted in the first place.

    This is simply a complicated situation that has no simply solutions and it is naive to convince one’s self a simply solution exists.

    • Mike

      Anyone can sue anyone else over anything. That doesn’t mean they’re going to win.

      No one has a legal right to be granted rezoning, nor do they have the legal right to the removal of deed covenants which existed when they bought the property.

      • Jim Haselhorst

        Landowners do have a right to get a property rezoned to a given zoning if the city council had already approved a city plan (or ordinance) that includes rezoning of the property in question to the zoning in this plan (or ordinance) at the time of purchase (grandfathered). And the developer is not asking the the covenants be removed they are just arguing that relocating the parts of the building protected by these covenants meets the terms of the covenants to preserve these parts of the building.

        • Mike

          under the scenario you describe, it would already be done or in process. Happens all the time with contracts contingent upon approval of rezoning. The scenario you describe does not apply here.

          The developer is not arguing his proposal meets the terms of the covenants in place, which it doesn’t. Both he and the Mayor are arguing it meets the ‘spirit’ of the covenants. Very different argument.

          • Jim Haselhorst

            No, it would not because this development in addition to needing setback variances is also considered a PUD all of which requires Planning Board and Council approval.

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