The River Forest Zoning Board of Appeals will recommend next month that the village could accommodate more zoning variation requests by allowing further wall extensions for additions on homes that do not conform to the current code.
The recommendation, which will now be decided by the village board, is the latest move in an ongoing disagreement between that village and zoning boards.
Village staff recommended an amendment earlier this year that would allow residents of homes that don’t conform to the current zoning code to build additions as long as those additions don’t exceed the current footprint of the structure. It would also eliminate a regulation prohibiting the vertical increase of a wall with a nonconforming setback. The ZBA rejected it, saying homes would be built too close together, and it would do away with input from neighbors of the homes in question.
At a meeting earlier this month, John Houseal, a planning consultant for the village, recommended that the current 12-foot extensions for additions be expanded to 20 feet to allow for more flexibility. He presented a breakdown of the 44 rear addition permits from 2008 to 2012, which showed 27 — or 61 percent — were for additions of 12 feet or less. That amount was consistent with the 12 other communities Houseal also looked at.
Extending the amount to 20 feet would allow for another seven home additions, or 77 percent, to be in line with the code, he said.
But Village President John Rigas told the ZBA at the meeting that besides numbers, they should think about the real goal of the zoning code and what they’re trying to accomplish with it. The village has said the amendment would encourage creativity in designing homes.
“I think it’s important that we have a zoning code that encourages people to maintain their homes, to enhance their homes and to make homes that are acceptable and wanted by the next generation of buyers,” Rigas said. He noted that the housing stock was built mostly before 1970, so additions to create family rooms and larger kitchens accommodate how people want to live today.
Rigas added that the concern about neighbor input should mean the ZBA listens to the neighbors, which doesn’t happen.
Dan Lauber, a ZBA member and zoning attorney, said neighbors’ input is necessary because they can introduce factual information to see if the request meets the standards.
He added that the variance procedure is “a protective tool for the community and it’s not a great burden.”
The ZBA voted to extend a nonconforming wall up to 20 feet, but kept the language that the height of a wall that maintains a nonconforming setback cannot be increased. Extensions beyond 20 feet would warrant a public hearing before the ZBA.
The village board meets next on Oct. 8.