Village may ease B&B regulations

Oak Park is looking to loosen up the guidelines on opening bed & breakfasts in town. This comes more than a year after a village-commissioned tourism study recommended relaxing rules here to encourage entrepreneurs to open more B&Bs.

As reported by Wednesday Journal in March of 2008, a heritage tourism study suggested that Oak Park could draw more tourists by easing its regulations on allowing property owners to turn historic homes into inns.

A year later, village trustees were presented with changes Monday to make the B&B-opening process easier.

A major change is no longer requiring B&B owners to install a sprinkler system, which can be prohibitively expensive in older homes. Sam Gevisenheit, who is trying to convert a home on Iowa Street in the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District, told trustees it would cost $250,000 to install sprinklers.

The village is also looking to be more flexible with other rules. Village codes require an owner to live in a B&B he or she owns, along with making the home compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and having one parking space dedicated to each room. Oak Park will look at relaxing all three of those guidelines.

The village is also considering increasing the allowed number of rooms in a B&B from three to five, along with easing a requirement to have a toilet for each guest room.

Oak Park currently has three applicants, including Gevisenheit, trying to open B&Bs in town, all of whom are wrestling with some or all of those problems. Three B&Bs operate in Oak Park: Harvey House (107 S. Scoville), Longwell Hall (301 N. Scoville) and Under the Ginkgo Tree (300 N. Kenilworth).

Trustees seemed on board with the changes proposed, and the village plans to write them into its ordinances in the coming weeks.

“I think all these are perfectly sound and reasonable,” Trustee Jon Hale said of the proposed changes.

Deputy manager gets severance pay

Trustees also agreed Monday to issue severance pay to a deputy village manager who was laid off earlier this month.

The village will pay Ray Wiggins about $35,000 after he was let go earlier this month as a budget cut resulting from lower-than-expected tax revenues. The amount is calculated by giving Wiggins a week’s pay for each year he was with the village, according to Village Attorney Ray Heise. Wiggins worked for Oak Park for more than 12 years and was paid $125,000 a year.

The village is considering making the severance payment its standard practice for non-union employees, Heise said.

Trustee Greg Marsey voted against the severance package because it stipulated that Wiggins could not speak badly about the village or pursue a lawsuit against Oak Park because of the layoff.

“It disturbs me that we would ask someone to waive all personal rights to pursue a chunk of money,” Marsey said.

-Marty Stempniak

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