You see the orange fences go up in Riverside and the first thought is always, “Uh oh, there goes another one.”
You know the fences?”the orange plastic fences put around trees on properties where either a house is coming down completely or where a significant construction project is soon going to take place.
And while it may be unfair to react that way, “Uh oh” is inevitably the knee-jerk reaction. It’s almost as if to say, “Sure, that house may not be an architectural gem, but we’re comfortable with it, and we don’t know what might replace it.” One thing’s for sure, the orange fence doesn’t mean things are getting smaller.
Over the past several years, teardowns have become, if not commonplace, then at least familiar in Riverside. Some of the houses that are sacrificed to progress are obsolete, dingy homes that no one will miss. Others are the kinds of quaint cottages that help make Riverside what it is.
It’s probably safe to say that Riverside has not lost an important architectural work in the past few years. Riverside has learned that lesson after nearly losing the Coonley Estate to a developer of ranch homes (which would probably be earmarked for demolition today) and losing the Louis Sullivan-designed Babson House to a developer decades ago. Sure enough, a number of the homes that replaced the old mansion have now seen the wrecking ball.
Still, the fear of losing something that may be considered a real part of Riverside’s historical fabric remains. The fear has even spurred some homeowners to request local landmark status for their homes, even ones not particularly notable as works of architecture.
That lingering fear is why we think Riverside ought to seriously consider an ordinance that would delay demolition of any home in the village until there’s a consensus that losing the home would not be an egregious loss to the historic legacy of Riverside.
That is not to say we would like to see a process so onerous that development would come to a screeching halt or that home sales would be unduly delayed. But as the number of teardowns in the village continues to grow, we don’t want to see resignation to that fate, either. While Riverside probably won’t suffer the fate of Hinsdale or Western Springs, where it seems blocks have been replaced wholesale, it should still guard against sacrificing its wonderful old housing stock at the altar of “bigger is better.”
While there may be some who might consider such an ordinance an infringement on property rights, that, too, should be put into perspective.
Nobody lives in a vacuum. Your choices affect your neighbors and the waves ripple outward throughout the neighborhood. The fact that we interchangeably use village and community says something about what kind of world we live in, or at least the kind of world we say we live in.
If a developer or new property owner wants to demolish a home that’s become part and parcel of that community, then some consideration should be given to those who will be affected by its loss.
The verdict may very well come back that the house should go. If that’s the case, so be it. But while property rights may trump all in some minds, community rights are just as important to others. A short delay to weigh those rights won’t hurt anyone in the long run.