McHenry County Historical Commission Chairman Justifies Coventry House Support by McHenry County Board

A letter from James G. McConnell to McHenry County Board members about the historic house on the old Motorola property in Harvard:

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.

Coventry House, Harvard

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.


McHenry County Historical Commission Chairman Justifies Coventry House Support by McHenry County Board — 21 Comments

  1. Mr. McConnell is chairman of the McHenry County Historic Preservation Commission, which is part of the County of McHenry government.

    The McHenry County Historical Society is an independent 501(c) organization, which is not part of county government.

  2. How much respect for the community will Edward Harvard Holdings have?

    Early indications are NONE. The county board needs to wake up, take notice, and due their duty to preserve this landmark.

    Our community and its history come first.

  3. These people are out of their minds.

    If they think a dusty old farm house is so important, why don’t they roll up their sleeves, chip in some money, and fix it themselves?

    Because bullying via government is easier?

  4. Tear the old house down.

    What a waste of time over something that means zero.

  5. Paul, I had another line of thought and after editing overlooked the wrong “do”. Unlike most forums I cannot go back and edit my comment further. Glad to see someone paying attention.

  6. I suppose you think the Old Courthouse should have been turned into a parking garage as well.

  7. Do we not have more important matters to worry about
    in McHenry County than this ?

    Demolish it and move on to more important matters that affect the citizens,
    current conditions and future of McHenry County.

  8. How did you get your photo next to your name?

    Others want to know.

  9. Last I heard, the Old Courthouse has a leaky roof and will cost about a million dollars to rehab. At least a parking garage would be useful.

  10. Sell it and GET SOME MONEY for it instead of sinking more tax dollars into it.

  11. Not one penny of taxpayer money should be used to repair private property.

    Bad enough Motorola received phenomenal tax concessions when they built the plant, taxpayer should not bear any additional burden.

  12. Per McConnell –

    “The McHenry County Board adopted the ordinance designating Coventry Farmstead as an historic landmark on May 3, 2016”.

    The present Board needs to bring up this issue again and undo the May 3, 2016 ordinance. The present owner of the property should be allowed to tear it down.

    Let those who advocate for saving old buildings set up mechanisms that would fund purchase and maintenance of old buildings strictly with monies from donors.

  13. I have no idea how my photo ended up next to my post.

    All I can guess is I must have been logged into Google and it automatically uploads it.

  14. For Brian and Cal: You are probably on a windows computer. (Although it doesn’t much matter any more.)

    They have back-doored everything and know everything about you and where you go and what you type.

    Just a few days ago my husband noticed that when he went to youtube on his laptop (windows) computer his first and last name showed up on the screen.

    He has no email address (never has)and is not a commenter anywhere on the internet.

    He has never “registered” for anything on any computer.

    Yet, there was his full name staring at him on youtube!

    How do you supppose that laptop figured out who he was? You have no privacy.


  15. Perhaps I’m missing something, but where is it suggested that taxpayers bear the burden of repairing this property?

    They are trying to compel the current owner to repair the property at their own expense.

    The county has attorneys on retainer who get paid whether they do anything or nothing.

    Would there be fines imposed?

    Court proceedings?

    Where does this cost the taxpayer anymore than they are already paying?

  16. The System moves at a snails pace, take a look at the pictures. This seems more important than an old house.

    McHenry County Department of Health orders Harvard-area resident to clean up garbage piled on property.

    Linda Pieczynski, a former state prosecutor and building code expert, said it appears McHenry County officials are at the beginning of a long journey to clear the garbage from Robin Road.

    “It could take years to resolve,” she said.
    ‘Property has gotten worse’

  17. The debate on whether to compel the Harvard Motorola property owner to repair a historic building on the site continues among McHenry County officials.

    Harvard city officials and McHenry County agencies are at odds on the matter of the historic William H. Coventry House and Barn, which is dilapidated and in need of extensive repairs.

    Edward Harvard Holdings LLC, owned by Xiao Hua Gong, plans to make smartphones at the vacant campus in Harvard, which has been empty since Motorola closed in 2003. Gong largely has been absent since submitting an incomplete application for enterprise zone incentives in March.

    Historic Preservation Commission officials want to compel him to repair the building, which they have said is in imminent danger of demolition by neglect, but Harvard officials want to hold off until development plans for the Motorola site are better understood.

    “If we don’t do something quick, there will be nothing left to save,” McHenry County Historical Society administrator Kurt Begalka said.

    Charles Eldredge, director of the Harvard-Woodstock enterprise zone, said the city wants to try to work with Gong despite his unwillingness to report to the city about his intentions for the property.

    “There is nothing there that in the short term, or even in the next couple years, that would cause collapse of the property,” Eldredge said. “We request this be continued, but we are very disappointed in the present ownership’s lack of transparency and proactive development of the site.”

    The matter already has been continued several times. The McHenry County Planning, Development and Environment Committee again will consider it at its October meeting.

    McHenry County and Harvard officials inspected the building in late June and discovered numerous immediate concerns, such as holes in the roof, load-bearing wall failure and foundation problems that are causing “significant heaving” in the floor system, according to the inspection report.

    Eldredge said cost estimates to repair the property could top $500,000. Gong has said in the past that his plans for the site would cost about $32 million. The project initially was set to conclude in May, according to its incomplete incentive application.

    Michigan-based Edward Harvard Holdings LLC bought the property online for $9.3 million in April 2016. The campus includes four multistory buildings, two heliports and other amenities, such as an auditorium, a fitness center, and biking and walking trails.

    Motorola built the $100 million corporate campus in 1997. It was expected to bring an economic boom to Harvard. The state of Illinois contributed $30 million for infrastructure around the plant. At its peak, the facility employed 5,000 people.

    However, Motorola closed the plant after only five years in operation. At the time of its closing, the facility employed 1,200 people. About 600 of those employees found work at other Motorola facilities. The campus has been vacant since 2003.

    The historic home on the campus was listed on the Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois list in 2015. The McHenry County Historical Society nominated the house to be a landmark, which doesn’t require consent from the owner. The home was plaqued as a landmark shortly before Gong bought it, city officials said.

    McHenry County Planning, Development and Environment Committee member Joseph Gottemoller said he would expect the property owner to demolish the building if the county presses the matter.

    “It’s still [his] property,” Gottemoller said. “I am not a big fan of telling people what they have to do with their property without getting their input any step of the way.”

  18. For those who think the building has historical significance there is a cheaper solution.

    Get permission to cut down the trees that are too close to the building.

    Take a number of photos in high resolution.

    Pick 5-10 photos that express WHY the building is significant.

    Make high quality prints of the photos.

    Frame the photos and hang them on the wall of the historical museum along with a map of the location of the building.

    Post explanations under each photo of just what is significant.

    Then let the new property owner tear it down.

  19. County Board Chairman Jack Franks wrote a letter yesterday to the attorney for Edward Harvard Holdings, purporting to apologizing for my advocacy encouraging the County Board to move forward with enforcement of its ordinance landmarking Coventry Farmstead.

    Let me be clear: I do not apologize for my advocacy – that is what the County Board appointed me to do.

    Chairman Franks has no authority to apologize foe me.

    I do not understand the cowardice of Chairman Franks and the PED Committee in repeatedly delaying action on the Commission’s recommendation for enforcement.

    If they are against enforcement, they should vote down our recommendation.

    If they favor preservation, they should vote in favor of enforcement.

    Further postponement is an act of cowardice, and completely unwarranted in the face of Edward Harvard Holdings’ empty promises of investment in the former Motorola campus.

    The people of Harvard and McHenry County are going to end up with a demolished landmark and a windswept, crumbling, vacant industrial complex.

    Jim McConnell

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *