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Illinois Appellate Court upholds Chicago landmark ordinance

Updated: October 28, 2013 7:34AM

The Illinois Appellate Court upheld Chicago’s landmarks ordinance Thursday, removing a legal cloud that it cast over the law three years ago.

A three-judge panel ruled that the ordinance is not vague or overly broad, rejecting a primary challenge from the plaintiffs. But the court held that the plaintiffs could proceed with another part of the suit that challenges the creation of landmark districts in two neighborhoods.

The ordinance lays out a process for whether a building or area in Chicago is worthy of landmark protection, which limits owners’ ability to alter their property. Recommendations are made by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, but final decisions rest with the City Council.

Justice James Fitzgerald Smith delivered the opinion that in part reversed an appellate decision in 2009, when the court suggested the ordinance was “vague, ambiguous and overly broad.” Smith said those remarks were not binding on the court and that, under different legal standards now at issue, the ordinance is properly drafted.

Commercial mortgage broker Albert Hanna and real estate agent Carol Mrowka filed the suit against the city in 2006. Their attorney, Thomas Ramsdell, said he was surprised the court turned in a split decision.

Ramsdell said his clients will continue litigating the case over the two landmark districts. He said he will consult with his clients about appealing the decision involving the ordinance itself.

Roderick Drew, spokesman for the city’s law department, said, “We are pleased that the court agreed that the landmarks ordinance is constitutional and that the landmarks commission has the authority to review potential landmarks and make recommendations to the Chicago City Council.”

The case has drawn significant attention from preservationists. Other municipalities used the Chicago ordinance as a model for their own rules that restrict the teardown of buildings deemed historic or architecturally important.

Hanna and Mrowka are challenging the city’s designation of landmark districts in the Arlington Deming area of Lincoln Park and the East Village area of West Town, claiming the action violates due process and equal protection laws.


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