Urbana preserves two buildings as historical landmakrs

By Liam Rinehart

With only one dissenting vote in two separate ordinances, Urbana City Council pushed forward with plans to preserve two older homes on Elm Street at Monday’s meeting.

In a packed room, numerous citizens elected to speak during the open comment section of the meeting. Many in the crowd and on the council believed it was in the best interest of the community that 502 West Elm Street and 504 West Elm Street were made into historic landmarks. With passing of the two ordinances, both properties have been placed under heavy restrictions. Their future is now heavily dependant on Urbana’s Historic Preservation Commission.

“Where you should see a statement about Urbana, it’s not there,” said Councilman Charlie Smyth. “These are two very significant buildings who have been brought to the brink of destruction because of neglect.”

Only Marc Miller, an attorney for the landowner, and Andrew Fell, an architect, spoke in opposition to the proposed ordinance.

“We’ve struggled for over twenty six years to keep these properties alive,” Miller said.

“We’re trying to figure out a way to preserve 504, but we’d still need to bring down 502 which is in horrendous condition,” he added.

Fell supported Miller’s view.

“Essentially, what we’d have to do is gut the buildings and start over,” Miller said.

“Many people glossed over the real problems. They are structural because it is over 100 years old,” he continued.

The turnout was large because the houses represent over one hundred years of local history. Royal Sutton, a former mayor of Urbana, commissioned the home now located at 502 West Elm in 1889. For the city of Urbana, it is the earliest known example of Queen Anne architectural style. Similarly, 504 W. Elm, also known as the Freeman House, is historically significant because it was designed by Joseph Royer, a well known architect that lived in Urbana at the time.

Aside from the potential economic downsides, most were more concerned with retaining a sense of the past, like Brian Adams, the main proponent of this legislation and a neighbor of the buildings.

“Those buildings are a tangible link to Urbana’s history. We need to preserve that,” Adams claimed.

While most echoed similar views, Councilwoman Heather Stevenson provided a different look at the situation.

“This is (the owner’s) property,” Stevenson said. “A city telling an owner what to do with their property is a little overreaching. If this were mine I’d feel that people were going over my head,” she stated.

After the ordinances passed 6-1 for 502 West Elm and 7-0 for 504 West Elm, Miller said, “Like I said earlier, all the options are on the table.”