ZBA approves 60-day teardown moratorium

? Shorter moratorium sensitive to concerns over property values.

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The River Forest Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) voted 5-1 on March 3 to recommend a 60-day moratorium on the demolition and subsequent rebuilding of residential homes in the village.

The action followed a similar stop-gap decision in January by the Village Board, which voted 4-2 to stop accepting demolition and building permit applications.

Zoning Commissioner Richard Smith cast the lone dissenting vote. The ZBA's decision will be forwarded to the village board for consideration at its March 14 meeting.

The 60-day freeze will also allow the ZBA to continue its review of the changes to River Forest's Zoning Code regarding setbacks and overall residential density.

Village President Frank Paris said Monday that he was pleased with the ZBA's action, and that he shared the concern of many, including numerous homeowners and developers, that an indefinite moratorium would have been detrimental in a number of ways.

"I think it was a good idea to have a shorter moratorium," he said. "Doing it through the summer would have been harmful to the housing values in the village. [And] it sounded to me like most of the people testifying against the moratorium would be OK with a shorter period."

And in fact, the commissioner's decision reflected the concern by just about everyone associated with the issue?#34;including homeowners and developers?#34;that any moratorium be as brief and non-disruptive as possible.

In addition to limiting the moratorium to 60 days, the ZBA also split single-family residences off from the overall zoning code review process so that it can focus solely on that type section of the code as expeditiously as possible.

That process would appear to be winding down, in any event. ZBA Chairman Frank Martin told those at the Thursday night meeting that his commission was "almost at the end of our review of the single-family zoning code."

Village administrator Chuck Biondo started things off by giving a brief review of the process leading up to village board's decision last month. Some sort of break was needed, he said, as interest in teardowns and rebuilds has remained strong.

"Five developers have made inquiries regarding teardowns and rebuilds [since the board's moratorium went into effect]," he told the ZBA. "[A moratorium] will allow for the village board to consider your recommendations, rather than react to events as they arise."

Several homeowners and developers then stood to express their concern that the commission be sensitive to their positions. Gino Riroavanti, who has a house under contract, asked the commission to grant a grace period to those who have already purchased homes in the village.

"Sitting on a contract to buy a home, there's a substantial cost involved," he told the commissioners.

Jane Levy, a home builder who lives in River Forest, challenged the idea that current zoning standards left the village vulnerable to unwanted architectural changes.

"If we've had [these code standards] since the 1920s, what has changed?" she asked.

"I think [that] to stop teardowns severely effects land values in this community. If you don't allow for growth in your community, the land values decrease."

"More than six or eight months would be too long," Levy concluded.

Michael Pollard of Pollard Construction introduced himself as "one of the few builders in favor of the moratorium." But like Levy, he cautioned the commission against allowing the ban to proceed indefinitely, saying, "After six months, if we haven't come up with something, I think we need to go back to where we were before."

Following public comment, the commissioners began deliberations, and it quickly became apparent that they didn't intend take anywhere near six months to settle the teardown/rebuild issue.

Smith was skeptical regarding any moratorium, arguing that such a tactic "goes against what the village by laws are all about."

"I don't know what this moratorium does besides contradict those zoning laws," he said.

Other commissioners, though, seemed concerned about the potential for out-of-character development in the village.

"We've had some homes built that dwarfed neighboring homes," said board member Lucchese.

After some discussion, Martin suggested that the ZBA could assure a quicker resolution if they split the single-family home issue off from the rest of the code review.

"We could make a recommendation to the village board at their next meeting, solely on single-family, without the rest of the recommendations," he said.

That suggestion was well accepted by most everyone, and in the end, only Smith seemed to remain unconvinced, voting against recommending a 60-day moratorium to the village board.

Even those speaking out against the moratorium seemed satisfied afterwards.

Even though she continued to question the moratorium's purpose, Levy said "I believe 60 days will be fine," echoing Pollard's assessment.
CONTACT: bdwyer@wjinc.com

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