(CBS) — Preservationists spoke in favor — and everyone else against — at a public hearing on landmark designation for much of the Randolph-Fulton Market area, west of the Loop.

Opponents of the designation received cheers from the crowd of about 60. Dead silence greeted comments by Landmarks Illinois President Bonnie McDonald and Preservation Chicago Executive Director Ward Miller.

McDonald called the proposed district “the most innovative” and “the most flexible of the districts” she has seen since the group was formed in 1971.

Miller said most areas presented with a proposed designation find it “a great honor.”

The rest of the speakers saw it differently. The Randolph-Fulton Market Association’s Roger Romanelli asked which trumps what — the zoning code or the landmarks preservation ordinance. He said landowners with clout have opted out of the proposed district, an accusation city planner Matt Crawford vigorously denied.

He said only one or two buildings have the architectural merit on their own for designation but said the district as a whole fits together quite nicely. He said the focus is on the area’s history as a produce market, a home to meat packers and for its warehousing and manufacturing.

Some of the businesses survive today, although Randolph Street — which once teemed with trucks and wagons — has rapidly become a restaurant row in recent years.

Romanelli said 80 property owners have signed affidavits opposing landmark designation and that 20 more are promised, which would amount to more than 65 percent of those in the proposed historic district. He said opponents want a final decision before the February election.

He was particularly sharp about the decision not to include the Harpo Studio, which are also more than 100 years old and housed the Fred Niles motion picture studio before it was purchased by talk show host Oprah Winfrey, helping to ignite the area’s resurgence.

The city’s timetable for the designation calls for additional public hearings in the spring, before a City Council vote.