'Owners' rights over area 'character'

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By Bill Dwyer

The River Forest Village Board engaged in extended debate and three motion votes Monday night before approving a number of final changes to the village's zoning code.

At issue was a choice between the village board's own previous recommendation to amend the zoning code to restrictively preserve the evolved character of neighborhoods, versus a Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) recommendation that would allow greater freedom to property owners to maximize the economic value of multiple "lot of record" properties by subdividing them for sale.

Village Attorney Jon Gilbert called the issue before the board "an ongoing argument" that presented a philosophical choice. In the end, the trustees voted to approve the ZBA's version of the code change, but not before engaging in some spirited and pointed debate.

After listening to a presentation by village code consultant John Houseal, the board quickly voted to approve three other non-controversial amendments relating to technical definitions. Trustees then turned their attention to the issue of teardowns of large homes and the allowable use of multiple lots.

Option A, the village board's own more restrictive proposal, would have based minimum allowable buildable lot size to be an average of the number of lots on a given block. Under that plan, eight oversized lots in the village could legally be subdivided into smaller saleable lots.

The ZBA's Option B would allow 33 lots composed of two or more smaller "lots of record" to be subdivided in the future and smaller homes built on them. Theoretically, that approach would allow the 11 homes currently on the block of Ashland Avenue north of Greenfield Street to be made into 24 houses on the official 50-foot lots of record registered with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds.

Trustee Deborah Graham, who lives in a large home on a multiple lot, voiced the reservations of several trustees when she said, "As much as I love to see those large houses, I'm very concerned with taking those property rights away from people in the future."

After more than half an hour of debate, Trustee Patrick O'Brien moved to adopt Option A, and Trustee Nancy Dillon seconded the motion, which was voted down 2-4. Trustee Michael O'Connell then moved to adopt Option B, which passed 4-2.

"I don't agree with the outcome, but I'm delighted that it's done," said President Frank Paris afterward.

In other action Monday night

 The village board approved by a 5-1 vote a new "4B" liquor license that will allow restaurants to sell beer and wine for take-out with food purchases. The approval required Paris breaking a 3-3 deadlock between board members split on a number of issues, including fees charged and limits on the amount of alcohol permitted to be sold. The board also approved the issuance of a second Class 4A license to restaurants for an additional $500.

 The board unanimously approved Dominican University's plans for a 6,800-square-foot Child Development Center building on its Priory campus. Representatives from the university assured the board that concerns over possible traffic congestion on Division Street would be dealt with effectively.

 In addition, the board unanimously approved businessman Mark Breit's proposal to install a 4,600-square-foot combination Dry Cleaner's and sporting goods store at 7722 Madison St. Concern was expressed that the businesses there will generate little sales tax revenue, but the general consensus was that building was both attractive and a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

 Trustees waived three design requirements for the Keystone Montessori renovation project, and allowed an extra year for completion of a village mandated drive way on school property.

 The board tabled a discussion of a proposed condominium conversion ordinance for future discussion.

 A proclamation honoring Patrolman Latonya Allen for her 15 months of service in Afghanistan and a National Guard officer was read aloud. Allen, who returned to the River Forest police department in May, received a standing ovation from the board and others present.

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