River Forest
After two hours of detailed legal arguments and passionate public comment Thursday evening, the River Forest Zoning Board of Appeals put off a formal decision on a planned subdivision of a property at 620 Franklin Ave. until its Aug. 10 meeting.

The longtime owner of the property died last year, and the estate’s heirs have an agreement to sell the property to a local developer who intends to tear down the old stucco house and build new $1.6 million houses on each of two parcels on which the house now sits.

Last December, Assistant Village Administrator Steve Gutierrez sent a letter to the estate’s trustee, Patrick Roche, stating that the width of the two indexed lots make them buildable “provided that the independent sale of the two lots does not create a non-conforming condition on either lot.”

Any existing structure, or new structures, Gutierrez wrote, must meet all applicable zoning requirements.

However when two of the home’s neighbors heard about the plans, they filed an appeal with the village contesting their interpretation of the revised ordinance. While the ZBA deliberates prior to its ruling, all demolition and construction permits for the property or properties are on hold.

At issue is whether the proposed redevelopment of a private home sitting on two separate indexed lots should allowed under the village’s zoning code. Attorneys for the heirs of the estate argued that the home is situated on two legally separate 50-foot-wide “lots of record” with separate PINs or Property Index Numbers.

Those lots, they say, meet the minimum buildable zoning code requirement of 50-foot-widths. The Cook County Assessor’s office lists the land as two indexed properties?#34;one, 620 Franklin, with the house on it, and the other, 616 Franklin, “vacant land under common ownership with adjacent residence.”

A visual inspection shows that the home appears to rest on part of both parcels.

Two appellants who live next to or across from the property?#34;Mark Kleinkopf and attorney Thomas E. Gibbs?#34;argued that the village’s recently revised zoning code does in fact make the property at 620 Franklin a “non-conforming” property. The code, they said, requires that any new development is required to take into account the average size of all lots on the block?#34;that is, the total width of all the lots on either side of the street, divided by the number of houses. Under that rule, they say, the minimum lot width size for any need building is approximately 61 feet.

Beyond the disagreement over the interpretation of the revised zoning ordinance, Gibbs argued that the two properties together were over 20,000 square feet, and thus required a planned development application to be made.

Following public comment, board member Gerald Mannix said that he’d received several documents relative to the issue just 15 minutes prior to the start of the meeting. Mannix told his colleagues he felt unprepared to make a final decision on the matter and asked for more time. The ZBA voted 4-2 to table the issue, with Richard Smith and Chairman Frank Martin opposed.

Since the decision to allow homes to be built was made administratively by village staff, the ZBA’s decision on the 620 Franklin appeal will be final and binding. Any appeal of that decision would have to be made in Cook County Circuit Court.

The River Forest Village Board spent eight months of 2005 struggling with amending the village’s zoning ordinance. Among the last issues to be resolved was the issue of single-family homes built across two or more legally indexed lots. The record of that process would indicate that the ZBA is more likely to rule in favor of property rights than neighborhood character when deciding zoning issues involving separate indexed lots of record.

Last August the village board debated its own previous inclination to amend the zoning code to restrictively preserve the evolved character of neighborhoods, versus a Zoning Board of Appeals 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.

Trustees discussed two options relative 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, just eight oversized lots in the village could legally be subdivided into smaller saleable lots.

The ZBA’s recommended option B, which allowed 33 lots composed of two or more smaller “lots of record” registered with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds to be subdivided in the future and smaller homes built on them.

At that time Village Attorney Jon Gilbert called the issue before the board “an ongoing argument” that presented a philosophical choice.” After debate, the trustees voted to approve the ZBA’s version of the code change.

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.

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