Chicago Codes
Chicago Landmarks Ordinance Unconstitutional?

On January 31, 2009, the First District Appellate Court of Illinois upheld a trial court decision finding Chicago's Landmarks Ordinance unconstitutional. Albert C Hanna and Carol C. Mrowka v. The City of Chicago. The Landmarks Ordinance remains in effect until the Supreme Court of Illinois hears the case, but should the Court uphold the decision, the process of determining landmarks in Chicago and Illinois would be threatened.

Developer Albert C. Hanna of Draper and Kramer and Realtor Carol Mrowka of Koenig & Strey joined together to challenge the landmark status of the Arlington-Deming District and the East Village District as well as the Landmarks Ordinance itself. They won their case at trial and on appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court where they argued that the ordinance puts limitations on development and natural growth. Illinois Appellate Court Justice Fitzgerald Smith found the landmark ordinance to be unconstitutionally vague and providing overly broad powers to a non-legislative body, in this case the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. The court also suggested that if the Landmarks Ordinance is unconstitutional, then the landmark districts are invalid.

Striking down the Landmarks Ordinance would affect 250 buildings and 50 historic districts. The ordinance has been in use for more than 40 years and is controlled by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, which is appointed by Chicago's Mayor. The impact of the court's decision could extend beyond Chicago. Many other cities use a similar landmark ordinance with the same language. This case may even be the catalyst for a series of lawsuits across the nation.

Property owners in landmark districts have had mixed feelings about the decision. Some owners are concerned about how this ruling will affect their property values. Other owners were happy with the ruling, feeling that the ordinance was overly broad. Many preservationists are concerned that some historic buildings could be torn down because of this ruling.

Mayor Daley's administration has filed a petition for leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. Hanna and Mrowka's response, while not mandatory, must be filed by April 24, 2009. It is expected that Hanna and Mrowka will file a response.

Want to know where the 50 landmark districts and thousands of landmarked properties that might be affected are? The Chicago Landmarks Ordinance is available through the 2008 Chicago Zoning Ordinance offered through Index Publishing. Just contact indexpub@lbpc.com or 312-644-6977 for more information.