After a spirited discussion with members of the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals on Monday night, the River Forest village board decided to hold off on a vote that could allow for the continuation of front, rear and side yard setbacks that don’t conform with the current zoning code.
If approved by the board at their next meeting, the zoning amendment would allow residents to built additions on their nonconforming homes as long as those additions don’t exceed the current footprint of the structure. It would also eliminate a regulation that prohibits the vertical increase of a wall with a nonconforming setback.
In a 5-0 vote last week, the ZBA unanimously recommended rejection of the amendment, but the board could overturn that. The board tabled the vote until their next meeting so that the village’s planning consultant, John Houseal, would be able to attend.
Members of the ZBA argue that the amendment would do away with public hearings that are now required for homeowners requesting variations. The hearings are necessary to inform neighbors about additions that may block light and airflow to their homes.
Others say the variation process is expensive and time consuming, and the amendment would give property owners more flexibility in designing their homes in a community where most are nonconforming.
“You’re making a mistake if you take away the public’s right to be informed,” ZBA Chairman Frank Martin told the board. “I think this is a bad amendment.”
Dan Lauber, a ZBA member and zoning attorney, pointed to the findings of fact that Martin and the ZBA put together. In the past four years, there have been only 5-10 variation requests submitted to the ZBA to continue nonconforming setbacks, which is not enough to be a burden.
The findings also say no factual evidence has been introduced to demonstrate that the current zoning provisions have deterred property maintenance plans or caused inconsistent construction in order to conform.
Lauber added that the ZBA’s decisions about variations are based on facts, not a popularity contest among neighbors. People moving to the community don’t expect their neighbors to encroach on their property.
“What is conceivably wrong with having that examined on a case-by-case basis?” he asked the board.
Trustee Jim Winikates agreed.
“Let’s keep the process the way it’s going,” he said. “Nobody’s getting hurt here.”
Village President John Rigas said he wants people to improve their homes and build consistent additions, but the problem is that the code is one size fits all in a community with various types of houses in different locations. Board members also agreed that defining a hardship — which is necessary for homeowners requesting variations, but is not explained in the code — can be subjective.
Rigas has mentioned that an evaluation of the zoning code is a goal for this year.