Friday Filings: Landmarks Ordinance Ruling

"If nothing else, the changes to historic districts and the ordinance should help stop creating 'snob zones,' like Lincoln Park, in the future." Albert Hanna

“If nothing else, the changes to historic districts and the ordinance should help stop creating ‘snob zones,’ like Lincoln Park, in the future.” Albert Hanna

The great big, HUGE news this week in legal matters concerning Historic Preservation is the ruling on Thursday by Illinois appeals court that Chicago’s Landmarks Ordinance is not vague.

This blog post from 2009 was written at the outset of this whole saga. Not only does the post describe the scenario quite clearly, it also lays out the seven very clear standards that are used to determine whether a building can be declared a landmark. These are essentially what Albert Hanna was challenging when he brought the case to court.

Had the court not ruled they way they did there would have been repercussions across the country. Cities such as New York and Los Angeles have landmarks ordinances with very similar language to Chicago’s.

The response from the court was actually quite comical in regards to Mr. Hanna’s case, citing Webster’s Dictionary several times to the challenge of words within the ordinance such as “special” and “related” as in “special interest” and “related discipline”, concerning the qualifications of the members of the landmarks commission. Mr. Hanna also challenged words in the ordinance such as “value”, “exemplary”, “critical” “historic” and “significant”. The court seemed to brush these off, essentially telling him to look them up in the dictionary and figure out what they mean when used in the ordinance.

You can read the full landmarks opinion here.

The essence of the judgment is that the landmarks ordinance uses words that have very “plain” and “ordinary” meanings, and that it is not written in any high-level legal jargon. This makes a lot of sense since when the ordinance was written and put into place as law in 1968 it was written in a way that it could be understood by the average citizen.

A handful of news sources have put out articles on the ruling. Find those here, here, here and here for further reading.

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