Monday, August 3, 2009

HPC shocked at City Council's ploy

A very unusual thing happened at tonight's meeting of the Woodstock Historic Preservation Commission.

The three members present on the HPC, Allen Stebbins, Bev Ganschow and Don Frick, were informed about an item on tomorrow night's agenda of the City Council. Just a little background first.

On tonight's HPC agenda the only item was consideration of the opening windows on the front of the D.C. Cobbs remodel. Windows will open inward and fold flat against an interior wall, allowing diners to share tidbits from their plates with passersby and allowing pedestrians to catch the aromas from the meals being served in the restaurant. So, would the HPC vote in favor of the request from the restaurant or would the HPC deny the request or table it?

Now get this! On tomorrow night's City Council agenda is an appeal of tonight's decision on the D.C. Cobbs request!

So! The HPC had not even acted, and already the City Council is going to consider an appeal of the HPC decision, should the HPC make one.

Some way to run a City, eh? Here we have an Historic Preservation Committee, a group of resident volunteers whose purpose it is to safeguard our Square, historic district and landmarks (and buildings that have been nominated for landmark status!) that hasn't even made a decision, and the City Council is ready to run right over them, if they don't make the "right" decision.

I can assure you that the three HPC members present tonight are extremely upset with Mayor Sager over a deal that he apparently entered into with the owner of D.C. Cobbs.

Poor Nancy Baker got stuck with trying to answer a question from Chairman Stebbins about how such an item even got onto the Agenda for tomorrow night's City Council meeting. As she searched for the right, "politically correct" answer, I asked her how much longer she hoped to work for the City.

If I understood her correctly, what she said was that the Agenda item appears on the Agenda at the request of Tim Clifton, the City Manager, based on a request of Mayor Sager that followed his meeting with Dan Hart.

What were some of the comments tonight?

There is an "...incredibly disturbing pattern..."
The "process (of the HPC) is being politicized."
That "it is okay to abridge the process."
"Does not lend import to our positions as Commissioners."
"The beginnings of a very disturbing pattern."
That "the City Council has circumvented the entire historic preservation ordinance in the Grace Hall matter."
The City's pattern negates the (HP) Commission.

I raised the issue of what action the HPC was prepared to take as soon as WCLS dropped an application for the first building permit on a desk at City Hall. It turns out that the HPC is not prepared to take any action.

What this means, in the absence of a legal expert with very sharp teeth, WCLS is likely to gain its first building permit, after which it can be expected to immediately apply for a demolition permit. The City has said it is willing to inform Dan Lemanski and me, when the building permit in the South Phase arrives at City Hall. Will it?

But wait! Help may be on the way. Attorneys are examining the legal opinion given to the City and whether the City Council properly approved the WCLS petition for the amended special use permit.

Attorneys for certain historic preservation agencies and at least one private attorney, an expert in the real estate field and familiar with historic preservation, and a historic preservation architect are carefully investigating Illinois law. And steps are underway to pounce, if it appears the City is within days of issuing a demolition permit. Necessary court papers to halt demolition can be filed before the wrecking ball swings.

Will WCLS have the guts to swing that ball, anyway?

It's too late to get a court's nod after Grace Hall is reduced to a pile of bricks. One comment tonight was that it would be a disaster for WCLS if it demolishes Grace Hall.

Finally, people in Woodstock are coming out of the woodwork and taking an interest in Grace Hall. It is not too late!!! Contact the mayor and each member of the City Council. Do it now!

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