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By Devin Rose
Instead of voting on a zoning amendment that would allow for the continuation of front, rear and side yard setbacks in River Forest, the village board sent the amendment back to the Zoning Board of Appeals so the ZBA could come up with more information to prove their case against it.
If the amendment passed, residents could build additions on their nonconforming homes as long as those additions don't exceed the existing footprint of the structure. The ZBA voted 5-0 last month to reject the amendment, but the village board could overturn its recommendation.
During the board meeting Monday night, ZBA members and the village's planning consultant, John Houseal, argued that the amendment would encourage residents to build their homes bigger and closer together, because they could extend the home's boundaries as far as the existing furthest point to the front, side or rear. The change would do away with a regulation prohibiting the vertical increase of a wall with a nonconforming setback.
The build-outs could drastically change the character of blocks and, eventually, neighborhoods, Houseal said. In 1997, when the village began allowing for the setback expansion of nonconforming homes up to three feet, "the maximum allowed was becoming the minimum proposed," Houseal said. That condition was removed in 2005.
Those who oppose the amendment also say it's detrimental to neighbors of homeowners wanting additions, because there would no longer be a public hearing to inform those neighbors about changes that might affect them.
But Village President John Rigas said he had gone through years of meeting minutes and found no evidence that residents ever complained about building additions. He said there's an old housing stock in River Forest, and the ability to modernize homes with additions will make them more desirable to live in.
The discussion turned to the definition of hardship, which applicants must prove during the variance process. Attendees said it has never been clearly defined, but that would be part of a complete review of the zoning code.
Dan Lauber, a ZBA member and zoning attorney, said he believed the ZBA's findings of fact were being misrepresented. He suggested the matter be sent back to the ZBA and asked the board to provide planning assistance. Rigas told the ZBA to come back to the board by September with a recommendation.