River Forest Village President Cathy Adduci cast a rare tie-breaking vote at the June 8 virtual village board meeting, allowing adoption an affordable housing plan for the village by a 4-3 vote.

Trustees Tom Cargie, Bob O’Connell and Respicio Vazquez also supported adoption. Trustees Erika Bachner, Katie Brennan and Patty Henek cast the negative votes. The discussion of the plan was at times contentious with several heated exchanges between Cargie and Henek. 

River Forest needs to add 39 affordable housing units to make the 10 percent state-requirement. River Forest is currently at 9 percent, according to Illinois Housing Development Authority statistics that show 340 of the total 3,788 total housing units in the village meet the criteria for being affordable.

According to the Affordable Housing Planning and Appeals Act of Illinois, any municipality with less than 10 percent affordable housing is required to adopt a plan to remedy its lack of moderately-priced housing.

O’Connell’s motion to adopt the plan directs village staff to “prepare an action plan to immediately begin exploring implementation of the plan’s recommendation.”

Those recommendations closely follow what were termed “possible additional considerations” in the plan that was approved unanimously by the village Plan Commission after four meetings from the time the village board assigned the commission the task in September.

Those recommendations include making four changes to the village’s zoning ordinance. Those changes would allow for taller and more dense development in designated commercial/mixed-use areas, consistent with the recommendations of the village’s comprehensive plan, to better accommodate possible inclusion of affordable housing as part of new development, and would accommodate accessory dwelling units (ADU) as a conditional use in the R1 and R2 zoning districts.

An ADU, which is also called an in-law apartment or “granny flat,” is a second small dwelling on the same grounds or attached to a regular single-family house, such as an apartment over the garage, a coach house on the back of the property or a basement apartment. If part of a single-family house, the ADU would require separate access. 

Consultant John Houseal of Houseal Lavigne Associates, who helped the Village Plan Commission in creating the plan, supported the change allowing ADUs in the village.

“It we do ADU right, we’ll get from 9 percent to 10 percent quickly,” he said.

Other changes to the zoning ordinance would specifically accommodate integrated affordable housing and amend the planned development standards to identify consistency with the goals and policies of the affordable housing plan as a standard of review.

Integrated supportive affordable housing allows people who are developmentally or physically disabled to live independently. 

Other recommendations include identifying strategies and means with which to preserve and enhance existing affordable housing in the village, such as possible funding of programs aimed at assisting with upkeep, maintenance and improvements to identified properties and to establish possible tax increment financing (TIF) allocation guidelines to assist in the provision of affordable housing developments and initiatives in River Forest, including development of new affordable housing and improvements and enhancements of existing housing. 

Public comment during the Committee of the Whole meeting was overwhelmingly against adoption of the plan on June 8. Of the 15 residents who spoke, only two supported adopting the plan. Most spoke against the plan although some advocated postponing the decision until further study could take place. 

Houseal defended the use of language that is also found in the village of Wilmette’s affordable housing plan, which some residents questioned during the public comment portion of the Committee of the Whole meeting.

He dismissed the insinuation of plagiarism and said the requirement by the state of Illinois to use specific language in an affordable housing plan leads different municipalities’ plans to appear similar. 

Houseal said he contacted 46 Illinois municipalities regarding affordable housing plans and received responses from 14. Of the 14, he chose Wilmette’s plan due to the similarities between the villages, including per capita income.

“Everybody uses the same template,” he said. “We contacted everybody we could.”

Adduci referred to the adoption of the plan as “the start of the journey” and advocated “fleshing out” specific recommendations by assigning them to other commissions and boards.

“Why not widen the world?” she asked. “I think we can move the needle significantly.”

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