Crushed beliefs and crunched conditions

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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You might notice a new "skyline" in southeast Oak Park: new developments poking out above the bungalows and foursquare homes. These structures will catch your eye because they are often built on small lots, and tower above their neighbors in an effort to maximize living space. 

The design is often jarring, with entrances above-height from all other porches while extending far back into what would have been a backyard. This lends to what I call the "orphaned townhouse" aesthetic. 

But personal taste aside, the real problem is that the zoning board and the village seem to have no problem granting variances in the Zoning Ordinance. The ordinance lays out acceptable guidelines for lot size, "character," design factors, and setback (how close a structure can be built to the property line), among other things. 

We learned this in January of this year when a developer sought to purchase a small adjacent lot in order to build a new home. This required variances to the Zoning Ordinance, and a hearing with Zoning Board of Appeals. Though more than a dozen residents (most within 500 feet of the property) objected, the board voted 5-2 to override zoning guidelines and allow a structure on a sub-sized lot with setbacks only 3 feet from the property line (instead of the required 5 feet). 

We were stunned to see that the interests of an outside developer and a non-resident homeowner were favored over the wishes of the community. And though the public hearing process is well-known to developers and the board members, it is confusing and frustrating for lay persons who find themselves with only 2-3 weeks to prepare for the meeting. 

The fact that this process requires so much preparation for an average resident inherently favors the developer/interested party. We also can't help but wonder if a similar request would be granted in North Oak Park where lots and tax bills are larger. 

This new home will not be a reasonable starter home, either. The proposed price was stated as $550K, raising concerns about affordability here. 

Though our view to the south is now completely blocked by this new, oversized structure, I think we can all see where the village of Oak Park's priorities lie. 

Sue Kehias  

Oak Park  

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Jim Kelly  

Posted: July 18th, 2017 11:32 AM

Great letter Sue! These ugly monsters are rearing their heads on many, many blocks in SE Oak Park. On the one hand, I want to feel encouraged that there is a demand from younger families looking for enough room to stay for a long time. On the other hand, these additions are being done by developers looking for a quick turn-around with no attention to aesthetics or quality of materials. The developer of the house at Harvey and Harvard made no effort to match the existing brick, the second floor hangs over the south wall of the existing structure and is painted a horrific color. The Village oversight on these projects seems inadequate at best, but it also may be that the current zoning codes are too lax, leaving the inspectors with little that they an enforce.

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