The owner of the property at 327 Home Ave., where a residential building (above) was divided many years ago into four units, wants to build a four-unit townhome development on the vacant lot immediately to the south, at 329 Home Ave. (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

The owner of 327 and 329 Home Ave. in Oak Park, 327 Home Ave., LLC, is requesting a zoning map amendment to reclassify the lots from R-5, two-family residential zoning to R-6, multiple-family zoning. The Oak Park Plan Commission is holding a virtual meeting on the proposal on Sept. 22 at 7 p.m.

Local architect John Schiess and property owner 327 Home Ave. LLC. were the applicants for the zoning map amendment. The corporation is owned by Gary Collins, who is a board member of Growing Community Media, which publishes Wednesday Journal.

In late August, Schiess held a public meeting to answer questions about the development. He declined to comment for this article but stated he is not the architect for the building planned for the site, and says he has no financial or ownership interest in the property.

Neighbors who learned of the proposal and those who attended the meeting were not surprised by the request to reclassify the property to the higher-density zoning classification. Most of them were in the neighborhood in 2020 when a 16-unit development was proposed for the vacant lot at 329 Home Ave. ( )

Under the current R-5 zoning, only a two-flat or single-family home can be built at 329 Home Ave. The adjacent building at 327 Home, a former single-family home long converted into four apartments, is grandfathered in as an exception to zoning. If the change to R-6 zoning is approved, up to 16 units can be built on the remaining lot.

Elizabeth O’Brien, president of the condo association at 339 Home Ave., adjacent to the vacant lot, has opposed the zoning change from the beginning. 

The application states the owner’s intention is to build a four-unit townhouse building on the lot, increasing the total of units on the two lots to eight.

“Once the zoning change is made, I don’t think there’s a legal mechanism to put any restrictions on the allowed number of units,” O’Brien said. “He could build up to 12 more units on that lot. I really do feel that he’s going to bait and switch us.”

Collins told Wednesday Journal he intends to build a four-unit building and plans to live in one of the four townhomes. He retained local architect Bob Mifflin to design a rendering of the property, which was included in the application for the zoning amendment.

The developer has hired architect Bob Mifflin to design a brick and stone townhouse building (above) for the lot at 329 Home Ave. The property owner says he intends to live in one of the units and will place a restriction on the deed prohibiting more than four units in the future. (Courtesy Village of Oak Park)

Village Planner Craig Failor says there can be no restrictions placed on a zoning map amendment by the plan commission but notes that the owners of the property have stated it is their intention to put a deed restriction on the property, limiting it to four units.

Collins, who partnered with former Chicago Alderman Ted Mazola, to rehab 327 Home Ave., says he is not working with Mazola on the building planned for 329 Home Ave.  

He said he is aware of the neighbors’ concerns about the project and says that he has been a longtime member of the local community and is interested in maintaining the historic character of Oak Park.

When it comes to plans for the building, he says that he is using himself as the guide. While anyone can live there, he thinks there is a market for baby boomers like him who don’t want a single-family home with a $30,000 tax bill but still want to live in the community where they raised their kids. 

If the zoning change is approved, he states that he plans to build four units of two to three bedrooms each, and he says the entire building’s square footage would be no larger than a two-flat. He plans to have an elevator in the building and provide plenty of parking in light of his own interest in owning and driving cars.

O’Brien objects to the proposed parking arrangement which calls for three garages, and additional spaces on a parking pad. 

“The back of the lot would be all cement,” O’Brien said.

She said she feels the development is not appropriate for the neighborhood and would like to see zoning upheld for the historic district. She also noted that the developers have already removed many trees from the site.

“One of the things I love most about Oak Park is our heritage,” O’Brien said. “We’re losing our charm, what makes us Oak Park. We are one of the few arboretum towns in the U.S. and we need to protect our greenspace.”

According to Failor, the owners have not asked for zoning relief other than the map amendment, so the property would still be subject to all other village zoning requirements including the open space requirement.

In R-5 single-family residential zoning districts, the limit for impervious surface coverage is 65 percent for single-family homes, and 70 percent for two-unit buildings. In R-6 zoning districts, the lot coverage maximum remains the same for single-family homes and two-flats, but townhome or multi-family buildings have a maximum impervious surface coverage of 75 percent.

A site plan provided to the village (above) shows how the proposed townhome building would be situated on the property. (Credit: R A Mifflin Architect)

Like O’Brien, Joe Costigan lives in a neighboring condo and fears the development will block sunlight into units which have only north-facing windows. He questions the assertions made in the zoning amendment application that state the developers need a denser zoning designation in order to make a return on their investment.

“They bought the property knowing what the zoning was and knowing this was the beginning of the historic district,” Costigan said. “Why do their concerns outweigh the people currently living on the street?”

For Costigan, who has lived in Oak Park for 30 years and raised his family here, the issue concerns the importance of citizen input. 

“Zoning is supposed to protect residents,” he said. “The village shouldn’t be choosing winners and losers between a developer and its citizens. We’re the people that Oak Park relies on to maintain its vibrancy, schools and park system.

“Are we going to preserve zoning to preserve the history and character of the neighborhood, or are we going to cater to an outside developer?”

Brian Latz, who his home in the 300 block of Home Avenue in 1998, says zoning was an important part of his decision to buy his home. Latz, who is vice president of asset management for Driehaus Enterprise Management, says that as someone who works in preservation and land planning, it was very appealing to him that his 1800s era home was protected from the encroachment of development.

“Why do they allow this sort of slippage to occur in an historic district?” Latz said. “They’re calling it ‘transitory zoning’ but I don’t see a lot of examples of that. Across the street and to the north it’s single-family homes. When you look at the plat, the existing house sits on both of those lots. In my mind they allowed those four units to remain because the four units were spread over two lots.”

Latz called the renewed request for a zoning change a bad penny that keeps turning up.

“The last time around the Historic Preservation Commission reviewed it and turned it down,” he said. “I hope the plan commission considers the character of the 200 and 300 blocks of Home and realizes this is something different. We have some of the oldest, most historically significant homes in Oak Park in this neighborhood.”

Collins says concerns about overall appearance of the project are unfounded.

“I love landscaping. I love gardens, once it’s done, it will be beautiful,” Collins said. “There will be green space at the front and in between the buildings.”

He said that it is not his intention to alter the character of the neighborhood and praises his architect’s connections to historic preservation in Oak Park. 

“I’ve designed a really beautiful building,” Collins said. 

The Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission discussed the proposal at their Sept. 8 meeting after Schiess presented the amendment application. Some commissioners were in favor of the zoning map change, and others, including Commissioner Mo Chase, expressed concerns about how the change in density and the removal of green space would affect the historic character of Home Avenue. 

The Historic Preservation Commission members’ opinions on the proposed development will be presented to the plan commission at the Sept. 22 meeting.

Failor says it is possible the plan commission could make a recommendation on Sept. 22, or if the meeting runs long, at a future meeting. If the plan commission approves the zoning map amendment, the final approval for the change would be up to Oak Park Village Board.

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