Group home expert warns Oak Park on zoning plan

Lauber: Elimination of zoning for group homes will lead to clustering

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Oak Park municipal staff and policy makers will soon revisit a proposed policy to remove zoning requirements for group homes in the village, largely due to a local expert's warning that the plan could lead to clustering.

Group homes, which are generally small homes of unrelated people seeking recovery from addiction, mental illness or some other disability, are uncommon in the village. 

Tammie Grossman, Oak Park's director of Development Customer Services, said the village has fewer than 10 group homes. She said the study session has not been scheduled but likely will take place sometime in July.

Dan Lauber, a local attorney who has advised municipalities on legislation and regulations involving group homes for more than four decades, said the proposal by the village in its recent update to the zoning ordinance will result in group homes clustering together.

That's because the proposal does not include a spacing distance between the homes, which is important, Lauber said, because other municipalities without a spacing distance requirement have seen entire blocks taken over by group homes.

The clustering of group homes defeats the central tenet of group homes, which is to incorporate its residents back into normal society, Lauber said in a telephone interview.

He says the spacing distance in most municipalities runs about a block to a block and a half. 

Lauber argued at an April 5 Plan Commission meeting that the zoning ordinance as proposed does not include a cap on the number of unrelated residents allowed in a family.

He called the proposed zoning change a "Pandora's box."

Not including a cap on the number of people allowed in group homes would prevent regulation of the homes because "that would be treating them differently than other people, other families."

That clustering scenario played out in Naperville, according to a study conducted by Lauber in 2007.

His study showed that 30 of the 36 group homes in that municipality were clustered in a small geographic area of the city.

He told the Plan Commission that the proposal to completely eliminate zoning requirements for group homes is an "extreme position" used by only six of 115 home-rule municipalities in the state. 

If group homes move into neighborhoods under the proposed zoning, the village would have little legal recourse to remove them, Lauber warned. 

"[Y]ou should be very much aware, as I've seen all over the country with client cities, once the homes do get established, if you do change your zoning to require licensing or spacing distance … those homes that are established are going to be there as legal nonconforming uses," he said.

* This article was updated to note that the proposed zoning ordinance does not include a cap on the number of unrelated residents allowed in a family.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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