It is difficult to define “character” in a residential area, and even more challenging to regulate it.
But as new homes replace the old ones in Downtown Frankfort, homeowners here are looking for answers to resolve this continuing conundrum. The Old Town Homeowners Association will survey all 320 households in the old downtown area, “so we know what all the people want, not just 30 people,” said association President Mark Adams.
“Do they like the style of new homes going in? If not, what can we do about it?” he said.
In an effort to build consensus among themselves, the group held a meeting May 10, which was attended by 30 homeowners, and will continue to meet at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every even-numbered month at the Founders Center to discuss and define the “character” they want for downtown. Soon they will develop a website to keep all residents informed about what is happening in their neighborhood.
Since at least four old homes were torn down in recent months in the downtown historic area of Frankfort, several residents fear that a more modern look will gradually replace the old charm that attracted them to the area.
Adams admitted there is a “greater sense of urgency,” these days as some believe that the new homes don’t always reflect the character and charm that many neighbors want to maintain.
But he wonders if they are the majority or just a “vocal minority.”
Homeowners need to figure out if they want the village to impose restrictions and regulate the size and style of homes, or allow neighbors to oversee building plans via an architectural review committee, or do nothing at all, he said.
In December, the Village Board approved a two-story, 3,500-square-foot home in the 100 block of Ash Street, rebuffing residents’ request for a moratorium on such large houses. It granted a variance to allow the home to take up 22.3 percent of the lot, exceeding the village’s limit of 20 percent.
The variance process has worked well, because it creates a “higher level of scrutiny” by the Plan Commission and Village Board, said Jeff Cook, Frankfort’s development services director.
Variances are often allowed to preserve mature trees, or deviate from the architecture or allow a different type of building material, he said.
The village does not want to impose regulations on an existing neighborhood and has left that up to those who live there.
Some time ago, the village created an historic residential zoning district, but it was never implemented because some homeowners felt it was too restrictive, he said.
There may be one or two homes that people said could have been done differently, but nothing has been “clearly out of character,” Cook said.
He acknowledged that it’s a “challenge” to reach consensus in existing areas, but village officials remain open to new ideas, Cook said. “There are many different viewpoints on what is appropriate.”
Should garages be placed in the rear or be limited in size? Should new homes not exceed the footprint of the old one? Should the village require new homes to have front porches? How do new homes compare to others on the block?
“We hate to be restrictive. We don’t want to push people away,” Adams said.
Personally, his major concern is the “new modern looking home that does not match the existing architecture of homes that are here,” he said. “What does that entail? I don’t know.
“People are looking for a good design, one that blends in seamlessly. It has to start with a good design,” he said, citing homes built by Gander Builders, which “puts energy into the design ahead of time.”
“If it’s done properly, the builder wins and the residents win because we have maintained the character and charm of the area,” Adams said.
In new subdivisions, developers often impose covenants and restrictions on the neighborhood to dictate the minimum size of a home, and types of fencing, sheds and pools that will be allowed.
But in Downtown Frankfort, where homes were built from 50 to 100 years ago, “We cannot think of downtown as a subdivision,” Adams said. “That is our hurdle.”
The Old Town homeowners have successfully worked with the village to require fencing around demolition sites, and watering of the land to keep dust, dirt and asbestos fibers from going airborne.
And neighbors were pleased when Gander Builders decided to salvage the wood, flooring and windows from the old Krusemark home in the 200 block of Oak Street to be used in the new home being built there.
“We are taking small steps and we’ll eventually get there, but it may be too late,” Adams said.
Cook said he has met “many times” with Old Town homeowners on this issue.
“There is definitely a lot of debate about what is desired to be regulated versus what can be regulated,” he said. “Without a clear goal, we can’t get there.”
For example, the village can’t require that the new home be the same size as old home. It has never limited the size of the home, he said, adding that “some of our oldest homes are the largest ones.”
The village does not regulate the number of garages, but prefers smaller driveways to give the downtown a more “pedestrian feel,” he said. Their concern is whether the new homes meet all the regulations currently in place.
It also does not want to allow a developer to split a large lot in two.
“Blocks would quickly change when there is money to be made. That would destroy the block,” he said.
“Things change with time. Character comes from the homes, the design of the block, mature trees, maintenance of property, the people who live there and its proximity to downtown,” Cook said.