A Letter to the Rockford City Council: Support Chancery Landmark Status

The following letter was sent to the Rockford City Council in support of Landmark status for Piety Hill, which includes the former chancery, convent, and St. Peter’s School. - Jennifer

I am writing to respectfully ask for your vote to grant Historic Landmark Status for the Rockford Chancery Building and related buildings when the matter comes before the full Council for a final vote. 

There are many questions raised by this complex issue, many voices and opinions clamoring for your attention, but fortunately there is truly only one question that you must consider when determining your vote: Is the Chancery a historic building worthy of landmark status? 

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Image via RRStar.

Image via RRStar.

As a Council member you are asked to make decisions about issues and topics on which you may have no professional knowledge or personal experience. As a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals and Liquor/Tobacco Advisory Board I have been faced with this scenario many times. Fortunately, ZBA/LTAB members are provided with tools to guide our decision making process and to help make the most objective decision possible. The tools are familiar to you because they are the same ones that guide your decision making:

  • The expertise of City Staff;    

  • The history of decisions by the board related to the matter at hand;    

  • The testimony of subject matter experts;

  • The testimony of neighbors/interested parties;  

  • The codes and ordinances of the City of Rockford;   

  • The laws of the City of Rockford, State of Illinois, etc.; and

  • The goals and strategic objectives of the City of Rockford as laid out in existing plans, i.e. the 2020 Comprehensive Plan

Once ZBA/LTAB has made a decision, it puts another tool in the hands of Council -- our vote to approve or deny an application theoretically becomes the first "layer" of consideration when it comes time for the Council to vote on a matter.

And so we return to the central question of the matter at hand: Is the Chancery a historic building worthy of landmark status? If you do not feel you have the professional knowledge or personal experience necessary to definitively answer that question, you are fortunate to have a layer of insight, a tool in your toolbox, to inform your decision: the unanimous recommendation of the Historic Preservation Commission, a commission whose members are approved by Council to make recommendations on matters of historic significance. Their unanimous recommendation is the most powerful tool at your disposal in this matter. Do not disregard it. 

Excerpt, Historic Preservation Commission meeting minutes, 28 February

Excerpt, Historic Preservation Commission meeting minutes, 28 February

Engaged citizens have carried this matter forward as far as possible with the tools at their disposal.  As a council member, you are equipped with a far more powerful array of tools. I have been utterly disheartened to hear council members reject the very powers for which they were elected to wield, powers to maintain and strengthen the physical and social fabric of our neighborhoods, powers to build wealth and vibrancy into our neighborhoods and districts, powers to slow, shift, and turn the trajectory of our older neighborhoods from decay and despair to rejuvenation and renewal. 

Your vote of agreement that the Chancery is a historic building worthy of landmark status is not a governmental overreach or a threat to religious liberty -- it is the recognition that you have been elected to act with all the tools at your disposal to maintain the vital structures of our city. Is it an overreach to hold property owners accountable for neighborhood standards? To put conditions on the approval of a liquor license? To require a permit for construction or deconstruction? These are normative actions of the government that employs you, actions that are not based on whims or opinions but codes, ordinances, and systems. You were elected to use the system for the good of your constituents, for the financial well-being of the City and all who call it home. Your vote of agreement that the Chancery is a historic building worthy of landmark status is not only fully appropriate, it is the only reasonable conclusion. 

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of this matter.