While Scott Summers’ legal analysis of the possibilities for Coventry Farmstead is directly on target, his assessment of the situation is entirely wide of the mark from political and financial perspectives.
Ownership of the Coventry Farmstead property, whether by Edward Harvard Holdings, the city of Harvard, the McHenry County Historical Society or McHenry County itself, carries with it the legal obligation to maintain the landmark in perpetuity, so long as the county’s landmark ordinance protecting the property remains in force.
The McHenry County Historical Society has expressed interest in the farmhouse being used as a museum of some sort, but the society utterly lacks the financial resources to repair and perpetually maintain the buildings. Sitting County Board members express active opposition to spending any county money on repair and perpetual maintenance of the property, which, of course, leads to their staunch opposition to county ownership.
The city of Harvard is so vehemently opposed to city ownership of the property that Mayor Michael Kelly, through his designee Charles Eldredge, has threatened immediate issuance of a demolition permit for Coventry House and the outbuildings, should the current owner request one. Harvard city government also lacks the will to commit taxpayer funds to perpetual maintenance of Coventry House.
Some members of the County Board’s Planning, Environment and Development Committee, which has repeatedly tabled action on our commission’s enforcement recommendation, have vocally opposed acting one way or the other on enforcement, including Joe Gottemoller, who openly advocated repeal of the landmark designation for Coventry Farmstead the last time our enforcement recommendation came before that committee.
Edward Harvard Holdings applied to the Harvard Woodstock Enterprise Zone for tax relief in return for development of the former Motorola campus, promising to invest an additional
$32 million in the Motorola facility between March 1 and May 31, 2017, shortly after our commission issued the enforcement recommendation. At that time, I spoke out publicly at a County Board meeting, saying that this application and promised investment was phony. In fact, not a single dollar of that promised investment has materialized eight months later. Edward Harvard Holdings has never even applied to the city of Harvard for any building permit to begin work on its property.
Proposals for ownership of Coventry Farmstead to be taken over by a local government unit or a nonprofit organization, which all lack the financial resources and the public will to take over the legal obligation for perpetual maintenance of this historic landmark, are only pipe dreams. Other than the current owner, there is no entity on the horizon with the resources to fulfill the obligation. McHenry County has the legal power and authority, but evidently not the political will, to compel the current owner to live up to its legal obligation of maintenance in perpetuity. Edward Harvard Holdings knew that obligation came along with ownership when it closed on its purchase of the Motorola facility. Two days after the ordinance was adopted, and 15 days before the closing, former McHenry County Economic Development Corp. President Pam Cumpata obtained a copy of the adopted ordinance “for the potential purchasers.” Edward Harvard Holdings knew there was a legally designated historic landmark on the property before it owned it.
Hence, my consistent and persistent advocacy for an up or down vote on enforcement proceedings. I continue to maintain that McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks, PED Committee members and County Board members who refuse to go on the record as either approving or declining initiation of enforcement proceedings are political cowards.
• James G. McConnell is the chairman of the McHenry County Historic Preservation Commission.