By Anna Lothson
Concerns about the criteria for granting variances for businesses has the Oak Park board questioning village policies.
In January, the board asked the Oak Park Plan Commission to hold a public hearing regarding amendments to the zoning ordinance as it relates to the commission's review authority for granting use variances in the transit-related overlay district and the perimeter overlay district.
Essentially, these are two districts that have certain restrictions on uses, based on the designated purpose of the district. Transit-related retail overlays are designed to protect existing retail and encourage new development; perimeter overlays are in place to address the gateways to the village that create an overall first impression for visitors.
Recent decisions, however, permitting two uses that did not match those regulations, have caused the board to ask the plan commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals to decide if policy should be changed on approving specific uses.
A non-retail use, a Tae Kwon Do studio, was recently granted approval to move into 111 S. Oak Park Avenue. This caused concern among business owners in the Hemingway District as well as the Business Advisory Council. The use was eventually permitted by the zoning board, which currently acts as a regulatory authority and whose actions do not not need final say from the village board.
Village staff has discussed internally whether this approval process should change so that the decision process starts with a village board referral, which would then come back to trustees for a final decision based on the zoning board recommendation.
At Monday night's meeting, a first reading of the zoning text amendment was in front of the board, but trustees decided, in light of recent decisions and many questions, the process as a whole needs to be re-evaluated.
Plan commission Chair Linda Bolte explained to the board that the group felt there were "weaknesses in the standard as they were reflected" in the current code. The group is looking for more of a substantive and consistent definition about what uses fit and which don't so that businesses are better informed about where they should look when coming to Oak Park.
Trustee Colette Lueck, later backed by her colleagues, said the confusion on this issue shows it's time to "step way back" and question the process in place.
"It seems to me that we need more information about standards," Lueck said. "Sometimes the evidence supports the standards. ... It seems to me that needs to be answered before we make a decision."
Trustee Adam Salzman said the system is not working the way it's supposed to, and there is a gap when it comes to the responsibility of the zoning board, the plan commission and the village board in terms of making these decisions.
Trustees compared the process to using a GPS: This is when your device would be telling you to "recalculate." And that's what the board decided to do Monday night.
After much discussion, with all of the board in agreement about the existence of holes in the policy, the item was referred back to the plan commission and will be discussed by the zoning board and plan commission, then brought back to the board at a later meeting.