If the River Forest Village Board plays by its own rules, it will deny the Senior Lifestyles’ development application to build an inappropriate institutional structure at Harlem and Chicago avenues.

Much as I was initially impressed by the proposal, further reflection led me — as a professional city planner — to realize that this proposal simply does not comply with the standards it must meet to be approved. Lengthier than a football field, this huge structure includes an institutional memory unit which isn’t even allowed under River Forest’s zoning code.

There are too many standards that the proposal just doesn’t meet — but you’d never know that from the Development Review Board’s recommendation. The burden of proving compliance with the standards rests with the applicant.

In §10-9-3, the zoning code establishes the standard that “The proposed use … is consistent with the goals and policies of the comprehensive plan.” 

The structure runs afoul of two objectives on page 11 of the village’s comprehensive plan to “Maintain the scale, quality and character of existing single-family neighborhoods” and “Protect residential areas from the encroachment of incompatible land uses and the adverse impacts of adjacent activities.”

This humongous structure certainly will not maintain the scale, quality or character of the single-family neighborhood to its north and west. The proposed development will demolish three houses to the north and occupy most of the block — that certainly encroaches on the surrounding residential area.

Among the objectives of the planned development process is the “Encouragement of land uses or combination of uses that maintain the existing character and property values of the village.” The applicant simply asserted the “proposed development will not diminish property values. Replacing the current commercial use with a $45,000,000 residential project of this nature will not adversely impact the neighboring properties.” No study, no evidence!

Having conducted scientific research on the impacts of developments on neighboring property values, I can categorically state that this development will reduce the value of nearby properties in large part due to its incompatibility with the surrounding single-family homes as it changes the character of the neighborhood.

It seems futile to try to convince the village board that this development should be rejected. Collectively, our elected officials seem to have an inferiority complex about River Forest, repeatedly approving inappropriate developments as long as they don’t include affordable middle-class housing.

Under the due process to which the applicant and neighbors are legally entitled, the review board’s decision is supposed to be based on findings of fact. That means agreeing on what the facts are before you vote — a process meant to force a review board to evaluate all the evidence before it and apply it to the standards on which its decisions are supposed to be based.

But in River Forest, the review boards vote before they agree on findings of fact. Later, staff writes up findings of fact. Now how can the Development Review Board possibly arrive at a decision based on findings of fact when the findings aren’t even determined and written up until after it votes?

As long as River Forest continues to flip due process on its head, we will get faulty recommendations from the Development Review Board and bad decisions by the village board on developments like this where the developer fails to demonstrate compliance with the standards it must meet to win approval. It’s time for the village board to play by its own rules. Rejecting the Chicago-Harlem development for failure to meet development standards would be a good start.

Daniel Lauber, AICP, is a longtime River Forest resident.

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