NORMAL — Normal's Historic Preservation Commission said Tuesday the town shouldn't demolish three uptown buildings for its Trail East project, but that recommendation may have no effect.
Members voted 3-2 against demolition of 104, 106 and 108 E. Beaufort St., but that vote only serves to ask Normal City Council to consider starting a landmark designation process for the buildings. The council on Monday approved a new five-story building on the site, the east side of Uptown Circle.
"It's premature for me to say (if the council will act). ... I'll be circling back and see what they say," said Mayor Chris Koos after the commission met. "I'll say this: ... historic preservation's actions were not unexpected."
The council has 30 days to act on the recommendation. If it doesn't, demolition can proceed. Construction is expected to start in late March.
Commissioners split on whether the buildings, which were likely built in the late 1800s, have too much history to be demolished or should make way for economic development that could help keep uptown vital. Bush Construction of Iowa is working on a $30 million, 120,000 square-foot building there.
"The character of the downtown district has always been unique to the town of Normal, and as a commission member, I look to preserving that," said Bruce Warloe, the commission's vice chair. "We realize that whatever decision we make here... the council can override us, period."
Commissioner Nancy Armstrong agreed, saying uptown's character "makes this town a unique property and not a generic one." Laurie Christensen also voted against demolition.
Commissioner Todd Bugg said he voted in favor of demolition "not because I want them to be demolished in general, but because I think that that's the price sometimes of growth in a community."
"The growth, development and the health of the uptown is a great thing" that attracts and retains families, said Chris Niebur, who also voted for demolition. "If (these buildings) had some unique feature that couldn't be replicated, I'd be more inclined to lean the other way."
Karyn Smith, a city council candidate in the April election, told the commission she'd like the town to use the buildings' facades in the Trail East project. Warloe said he thought that idea had merit.
Marc Tiritilli, a one-time mayoral candidate against Koos, said the public outcry about the buildings shows they should be preserved. He specifically requested the artists who contributed to the mural at 104 E. Beaufort be given more time to try to preserve it.
"I know the town has a record on preservation, but that suggests to me it can be done, not that we've done enough," said Tiritilli.
Koos noted these buildings have marked for redevelopment since the town bought two of them in 2006. The mural was added in 2011.
"The mural was a great way to spruce up a plain wall next to a bare parking lot," said Niebur, but he questioned its historical value. "You can paint murals. That's a feature that comes and goes."