Historical Society Asks County Board Help to Save Harvard’s Coventry House

Comments from McHenry County Historical Society Exec Kurt Begalka to the McHenry County Board:

The Harvard home that the McHenry County Historical Society seeks County help to save.

I am here tonight to speak on behalf of the historic 1855 Coventry farmstead in Harvard – which this body landmarked nearly 18 months ago and then ignored.

The current owner, a Chinese company which has offered more lip service than action, is the latest in a parade of absentee owners since 2003 who have bought then abandoned the site on Harvard’s northern gateway.

And all the while, the building continues to deteriorate.

A site inspection by your own inspectors identified five repairs that require “immediate action.”

They include openings created by missing or impassable windows or doors, failing masonry walls, holes in the roof, foundation issues affecting a portion of the floor and missing sections of floor on the second level.

The attorney for the property owner, Edward Harvard Holdings, would lead you to believe that the issues cited by your trained staff are overstated and that this multi-national company is not responsible for making repairs caused by the negligence of previous owners.

However, the current owners also have failed to offer any blueprint for buttoning up the structure – even things as simple as replacing doors and windows to keep the elements at bay.

If you or I owned this property, it would be red-tagged in a heartbeat.

But vague promises of something “big” have forestalled any attempt at stabilizing and then restoring this farmhouse and barn.

Instead, the company is attempting to somehow link progress on this little farmhouse to the future of a 1.5 million square foot manufacturing plant.

With all due respect, that is ridiculous.

A resolution recommended by the county’s Historic Preservation Commission would compel the property’s owner to work with the county and city of Harvard to develop a framework for repairs.

But this resolution and the future of the Coventry farm remains in limbo – postponed repeatedly, most recently until November 28 by the Planning, Environment & Development Committee.

So why should you care?

More than this one historic site is at stake here.

The integrity of the entire McHenry County Historic Preservation Ordinance is being called into question.

Years ago, Dennis Sandquist reminded me that an ordinance is only as effective as a government’s willingness to enforce it.

Tonight, it my responsibility to remind you.


Historical Society Asks County Board Help to Save Harvard’s Coventry House — 7 Comments

  1. I am confused by this the historic society is mad the company that owns the property is not doing anything, I am sorry but if I am that company the bulldozers would be there tomorrow.

    Careful what you wish for

  2. If you look closely at one of the windows on the second floor of this haunted house, you will see our sunshine blogger looking outside while holding his ugly cat; a horrendous scene. Happy Halloween…tic, tock, tic, tock…

  3. Looks like it would make suitable housing for
    the wave of Dreamers who are soon to invade the Sanctuary State Illinois.

    I’ll let Rauner know so he can include it in his next reelection campaign TV spot.

  4. County Board Chairman Jack Franks
    County Board PED Committee Members
    County Board Members
    City of Harvard Mayor Michael Kelly

    Re: Coventry Farmstead
    Preservation Ordinance Enforcement

    Ladies and Gentlemen:

    The McHenry County Board appointed me as a Commissioner on the McHenry County Historic Preservation Commission March 15, 2015, and later as Chairman of the Commission on February 2, 2016. My term as Chairman will expire February 2, 2018, and as a Commissioner my term expires November 26, 2021. As a commissioner and as chairman, it is my duty to advocate for preservation of McHenry County’s historic landmarks, including Coventry Farmstead. I will continue to be vocal in that advocacy so long as I continue to serve on the Commission.

    The McHenry County Board adopted the ordinance designating Coventry Farmstead as an historic landmark on May 3, 2016. Edward Harvard Holdings closed its purchase of the former Motorola property, for a price of $9.3 million, in a deed executed on May 20, 2016. Edward Harvard Holdings knew the property had a legally designated landmark on it when it bought the facility. On June 27, 2017, at the instruction of the County Board, Planning and Development Architect Adam Wallen inspected the Coventry Farmstead property, and found that the owner is in fact permitting demolition by neglect of the Coventry Farmstead.

    The Historic Preservation Commission therefore persists in its recommendation dated December 23, 2016 that the County Board pursue enforcement proceedings against Edward Harvard Holdings under the County’s historic preservation ordinance. Your Planning and Development Committee has repeatedly tabled action on that recommendation, apparently out of fear that taking action will cause Edward Harvard Holdings to walk away from its multi-million dollar investment in the former Motorola property, and the prospect of construction jobs and permanent jobs it presents, rather than stabilize the historic Coventry Farmstead property, as the intergovernmental agreement with the City of Harvard and the County Ordinance legally obligate it to do.

    In its project application to the Enterprise Zone, Edward proposed to invest an additional $32 million in the facility by the end of May of this year, bringing its total investment in the facility to $41.3 million. We are asking Edward to spend less than eight tenths of one percent of that investment on repairs to the Coventry Farmstead. This amount is far less than half of the cost of demolishing our historic landmark.

    I have heard the objection that McHenry County should not tell property owners what they can and cannot do with their real estate. The fact is that McHenry County tells county real estate owners what they can and cannot do with their property every day, in the form of zoning laws, environmental regulations and building codes. Furthermore, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that property may be designated as a landmark without the owner’s consent, in the case of Penn Central Transportation Company v. City of New York, 438 U.S. 104, (1978).

    The most recent communication I have had from the attorney for Edward Harvard Holdings clearly states that Edward Harvard Holdings is not interested in doing anything about its demolition by neglect of Coventry Farmstead until it completes whatever plans it really may have for development of the Motorola campus, and at a pace of its own choosing. So far there has been no significant investment by Edward Harvard Holdings in the Motorola facility, despite its failed promise of a $32 million investment to have been completed over five months ago.

    Preservation of this important historic landmark is not mutually exclusive with redevelopment of the Motorola facility. In fact, construction efficiencies could be realized by pursuing both projects simultaneously. As you know, Mr. Eldridge of the Harvard Woodstock Enterprise Zone has threatened immediate demolition of the Coventry Farmstead buildings in earlier discussions about enforcement of our preservation ordinance.

    If the County Board in its collective judgment believes enforcement of the preservation ordinance against Edward Harvard Holdings seriously threatens future economic development in Harvard, please stand up and be counted as against enforcement, rather than allowing further delays in acting upon the Commission’s enforcement recommendation to make you complicit in demolition by neglect of this historic property. Further inaction would be an act of cowardice by the current County Board and its members.


    James G. McConnell

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