Changes to River Forest’s zoning code to encourage commercial development in the North Avenue and Madison Street corridors are moving from the economic development commission to the zoning board of appeals following action by the village board Monday.

At the village board meeting that night, trustees supported a recommendation from the EDC to forward to the ZBA changes to the zoning code that were proposed by Houseal Lavigne Associates, a Chicago-based urban planning firm that conducted a study of the village’s zoning code as it applies to commercial districts. The vote was 5-0. Trustee Erika Bachner did not attend.

Village administrator Matt Walsh explained that the study was commissioned in 2022 to determine if any zoning amendments would better enable and attract appropriate and appealing economic development.

“The goal is to attract developers,” he said. “We want to encourage commercial development in the C1 (North Avenue) and C2 (Madison Street) districts. We want to attract the best development.”

In general, the EDC’s recommendations included increasing building height to accommodate an additional story, increasing allowed residential densities and decreasing parking requirements for residential uses, Walsh said in a memo to the board.

In response to a question from Trustee Katie Brennan, Trustee Bob O’Connell indicated that he believes that existing regulations are preventing developers from exploring projects in River Forest. He said the proposed changes will make it “more palatable” for developers.

Walsh explained that resident input on the proposed changes was obtained through a stakeholder meeting and the April and May EDC meetings. Residents expressed concern about the process and about potential impacts on traffic, parking, green space and privacy, he added.

He also assured officials that no changes to the planned development process or zoning board of appeals review processes are being proposed. Multi-family housing and any development over 20,000 square feet still will be required to submit a planned development application and be reviewed by the development review board, he added.

Although the target of the proposed changes is the C1 and C2 districts, Houseal Lavigne has drafted a new chapter in the zoning code that will apply to the C3 (Central Commercial) District and Office/Research/Industrial/Commercial (ORIC) District as well as to the C1 and C2 districts. The code now has separate chapters for each zoning district, Walsh said in the memo. The chapters are intertwined and refer to other chapters, he said, adding that the reason for the new chapter is to simplify with one chart that applies to the four commercial districts. The C3 District is mainly between Lathrop and Park avenues and between Lake Street and Central Avenue and the ORIC district is between Lathrop and Harlem Avenue and between Lake and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.

In response to expressions of concern by Brennan and Trustees Lisa Gillis and Ken Johnson about residents having the opportunity to provide input, Walsh said the process will include a public hearing by the ZBA. Village staff members will submit proposed language to the ZBA and initiate the public hearing process. The ZBA will hold a public hearing regarding the proposal and then deliberate on the amendments. Following deliberation and recommendation, the ZBA will vote to approve findings of fact at a subsequent ZBA meeting. After that vote, the village board will consider the recommendations and vote on a zoning ordinance, if so desired.

When Johnson asked about “getting the word out,” Walsh said staff members would use the village newsletter and social media to inform residents.

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