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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

Owners Of Landmarked Buildings Could Pay Big For Neglecting Properties

Ald. Brian Hopkins’ plan would put a 10-year hold on any new construction at sites where buildings were ‘willfully’ neglected.

A landmarked cottage in Old Town was demolished in 2016 after the city condemned the property.

WEST TOWN — After seeing too many old Chicago buildings fall into disrepair only to be bulldozed, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) is proposing an amendment to a city ordinance that would punish owners of landmarked homes for neglecting their properties.

Hopkins wants to do that by fining owners of structures that have fallen into disrepair up to $2,000 daily and placing a moratorium on new construction at the site for up to 10 years, according to an ordinance he plans to introduce next Wednesday to members of the Committee on Zoning, Landmark and Building standards.

If the proposed ordinance, which aims to amend the 1997 Chicago Landmarks Ordinance, passes in the subcommittee, it will go before the full City Council for a vote on April 18.

Though Hopkins would not say which specific buildings inspired this ordinance, several historic properties throughout the city have faced the wrecking ball in recent years due to poor conditions. 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.”

“It strengthens the penalties for owners of landmarked buildings who intentionally allow them to fall into a state of disrepair, so they can come back to us and apply for a demolition permit and say ‘Well, the building is a hazard, look at the condition of it; it’s about to fall down anyway,’” Hopkins told members of the East Village Association at the neighborhood group’s monthly meeting on Monday at Happy Village, 1059 N. Wolcott Ave.

The measure would impose a daily minimum fine of $1,000 to $2,000 on owners of deteriorating structures who have crumbling foundational elements––such as sagging walls and leaning beams–– or improperly attached signage.

In the amended ordinance, “structures” are defined as buildings in a Landmark district or Landmarks themselves. Structures could also include works of art:

Screenshot from the to-be-introduced amended ordinance

“After a number of cases where landmark properties were reported as being willfully neglected by their owners to force a demolition, rebuild or profit from a land sale, Alderman Hopkins introduced an ordinance that ensures landmark properties are properly preserved,” Hopkins’ spokesman Christian Ficara said in a statement. “This ordinance effectively strengthens the requirements of landmark property owners to maintain the safety and structural integrity of the building.”

Hopkins told members of the East Village Association that the proposed ordinance would limit a property owner’s ability to demolish their buildings.

Ald. Hopkins at the East Village Association meeting on April 2. Photo: Alisa Hauser

“We will take them to building court and say, ‘whether it’s a Landmark or not, you have to keep up your building,’” Hopkins said.

According to the amended ordinance, if building problems are worked out internally through the city’s administrative hearing process overseen by the Department of Buildings, there would be a two-year hold on any new construction or demolition permits. However, if the fight between the city and building owner escalates to the Circuit Court of Cook County, there could be a 10 year moratorium on new construction permits rather than five years under the existing ordinance.

There are existing penalties for neglecting buildings in the law passed in 1997, but the amended ordinance strengthens them and explicitly states what issues could be subject to fines.

“We are clarifying what constitutes a contributing act of negligence,” Ficara said.

Read a draft of the amended ordinance here.