Hoping to avoid losing any more historically significant buildings, the City of Bloomington has enacted a new review process to screen properties before an owner can demolish them.
The new demolition review process is part of the broader overhaul to the city’s zoning code that was approved in March. Every application for a demolition permit will be screened, and any building over 50 years old and larger than 500 square feet of floor area is flagged. If the building is deemed to be potentially historically significant, the Historic Preservation Commission would conduct an administrative public hearing to consider its historical or architectural significance. If the commission determines it is significant, the city is required to meet with the property owner to discuss alternatives to demolition. If none can be found, demolition can proceed.
“This is one tool that will give the community an opportunity to stop and breathe before we tear down something we may not have to tear down,” said Bloomington City Planner Katie Simpson.
The city has already lost many historic buildings that did not necessarily need to be demolished, Simpson said. The Old House Society documented many of them in the 2000 book, “Bloomington-Normal Lost.” Its pages include the 1889 George Miller-designed home at 1206 N. Main St., a Queen Anne, Romanesque building that was arguably Bloomington’s most elaborate residence. It was demolished in 1937 to make way for a grocery store. Today it’s a U-Haul facility.
A building’s significance will be measured on a set of criteria, Simpson said. Does it have architectural features that are worth preserving? Did someone famous grow up there? Does it represent a significant period in local or national culture?
“It’s whether or not it’s something that can provide an educational benefit in the future. If there’s something to learn from preserving this structure, it’s probably (worth) saving,” Simpson said.
There are many alternatives to demolition, she said. Neighbors could pool their resources and buy it, as some East Grove Street Historic District neighbors recently did. The owner could pursue local or national historic designation, opening up new funding opportunities or tax benefits, Simpson said.
“It’s on a case-by-case basis and looking for an alternative that’s feasible for this specific property and can create a win-win for both the property and the city,” Simpson said.
The city expects the demolition review process to mostly impact areas within or adjacent to one of the city’s six local historic areas. Those are mostly located between downtown and Towanda Avenue. The city expects maybe three or four properties a year to go through the review process.
Historic preservation was identified as an important goal in the city’s current comprehensive plan, Simpson said in an interview this week, during the national Preservation Month.
“Bloomington is unique because of its history. That’s what separates us from other places. We want to focus on promoting heritage tourism and looking at ways we can maintain neighborhood character,” she said.
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