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By Devin Rose
A planning consultant for the Village of River Forest will present options to their Zoning Board of Appeals at a meeting this month in order to tweak a zoning code amendment that the ZBA and village board have been at odds over.
The amendment would allow residents of homes that don't conform to the current zoning code to build additions as long as those additions don't exceed the current footprint of the structure. It would also void a regulation that prohibits the vertical increase of a wall with a nonconforming setback.
The ZBA unanimously voted to reject the amendment at a meeting in May, but the village board could overturn that recommendation. ZBA members have said the amendment allows additions to be built too close to adjacent properties. It's also detrimental to neighbors because it will do away with the public hearing requirement where neighbors are informed of how changes might affect their properties. Village President John Rigas, however, said at a June village board meeting that he found no evidence of neighbors complaining about building additions.
At the ZBA meeting on July 12, planning consultant John Houseal said he gathered from the June meeting that some village board members saw the code as too strict. He urged the ZBA to help him look at the standards in order to create more flexibility in the code, which could be more lenient for people who are burdened with a nonconforming structure.
"I want to make sure the discussion is framed around data and analysis, not ambiguity," said Houseal, who plans to look at how many previous variation proposals were granted and why, as well as how other communities with older housing stock handle expansions.
"It was not a pleasant experience, I think, for anybody," said ZBA member and zoning attorney Dan Lauber about the June meeting. Lauber was joined at the July meeting by ZBA Chair Frank Martin and members Fred Heiss and Tagger O'Brien.
Lauber suggested setting standards that consider certain variations on nonconforming homes to be minor, which wouldn't require a public hearing. Neighbors would still be notified, but the change could be done by administrative staff, though no one on staff, he noted, is a professional planner.
Another issue that has never clearly been defined is the requirement by the applicant to prove that they have a hardship. Lauber said he wasn't sure if the Illinois Zoning Enabling Act would allow the village to remove that requirement since River Forest is not a home rule community.
Lauber said the overall goal is to achieve fairness by maintaining the spirit of the ordinance while also allowing flexibility in a built-up, older community. The ZBA will meet with Houseal again on Aug. 9 before presenting a recommendation to the village board in September.
"I honestly don't know what to expect," Lauber said.