The River Forest Village Board will meet in special session April 2 for a long awaited public hearing on the contentious issue of establishing a local historic preservation ordinance.

With two trustees absent Monday night, the board also agreed to three main changes to the proposed ordinance. Those changes included removing references to the village’s zoning code (Sections 2B and 3B), requiring only a simple majority and not a five-vote supermajority for any board changes to recommendations by the Historic Preservation Commission (Section 12C), and deleting a reference to floor-area ratio, or FAR, in the section under design standards for the renovation of historic homes (Section 6D).

President Frank Paris had expressed concern that restricting alterations to historically significant structures based on current FAR standards would effectively render all such building functionally obsolete.

Village staff members are compiling a list of homeowners who would be affected by a historic preservation ordinance and will mail notices for the April 2 meeting soon.

Trustee Al Swanson, who played a crucial role in the development of the proposed ordinance, urged the board to vote on the issue before he steps down in May. However, while the special meeting will give the board additional time to deliberate, whether it can have a final vote by its April 23 meeting is largely dependent on the public turnout for the April 2 meeting.

“If it turns out to be a much bigger response than expected, we’ll need to revisit some issues,” Trustee Russ Nummer said.

The proposed ordinance refers to two lists of homes in the village-103 homes listed on a 1976 survey by the National Register of Historic Places, and 262 homes on a list by the Illinois Preservation Agency.

Village Administrator Steve Gutierrez said he believed that the original National Register of Historic Places list should be used for reference to any ordinance, saying, “We have more confidence these have more significance.”

Paris, who has frequently expressed concern that any historic preservation ordinance should not harm property values or impinge on property rights, said, “If we let this [262-home list] go, when the [Illinois Historic Preservation Agency] comes back, we’ll have 700 homes.”

“Frank, you have no basis for that statement,” Swanson shot back.

Assistant Village Administrator Jason Slowinski noted that 88 homes are on both lists.

Gutierrez stressed that the ordinance as worded would not affect every home in the historic district.

Swanson said he’s just happy to see progress being made.

“I’m glad we’ve finally gotten to the point where we’re going to have the public meeting we’ve been talking about,” he said.

Tightening up on permit extensions

The board voted 4-0 to revise the ordinance on building permit extension fees. Under the new approach, the village board will no longer rule on fourth extensions of permits, which extend a building permit from 18 months to two years. Although that approval will now be an administrative matter, the manner in which third and fourth extensions will be handled by staff will become stricter.

Public Works Director Greg Kramer said the revised ordinance will feature a carrot-and-stick approach. In a memo sent to board members, Kramer said that his department will significantly tighten up its oversight on projects requiring third and fourth extensions that add six months each to the initial one-year permit. Staff will perform daily drive-by inspections and “take a very strict approach” to any violations observed. “We will essentially maintain a zero-tolerance approach to poor job site maintenance and will issue citations as necessary.”

“We’re proposing to sit on those projects,” Kramer told the board Monday night. “We’ll deal with it on a daily basis if need be.”

Another stick to ultimately enforce the final deadline will be a local citation requiring homeowners to appear before a judge in the Maybrook courthouse.

“It has been our experience that the prospect of having to appear in 4th District Court is a significant motivator,” Kramer wrote.

Equally important, Kramer said, is the fact that homeowners will be eligible for rebates on a per-diem basis for work finished earlier than required by third and fourth extension deadlines.

“There’s a much more significant financial incentive to complete [projects] on time,” he said.

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