By Cathy Yen
Planning to build a chicken coop in Oak Park? Putting an addition on your home? How about a coach house? Interested in opening a new business? First check the proposed changes to zoning laws.
Mention "zoning" and eyes glaze over even faster than when one cries "pension crisis." But, after streets and safety, zoning is one of the most important functions of local government. Zoning law governs land use and the built environment. What you can build, where you can build it and how you can use it once it is built.
Oak Park has been reviewing its zoning laws for over a year. Consultants and staff just unveiled a draft of this arduous work, which strives to simplify and streamline the existing codes while making substantive change where appropriate.
Of course, "where appropriate" is up for interpretation. It is up to the community to make sure we got this part right.
Zoning has significant consequences for housing, development, commercial districts and the overall character of Oak Park. With respect to commercial areas, the list of permitted uses for retail space on Harrison Street is different than what is permitted on Roosevelt which is different than Downtown Oak Park, and so on. These differences have been suggested to further the perceived character of each district and to guide any new investment or development according to that character. Community input helps shape exactly what the character is, or should be.
The New York Times just ran a piece about zoning and its implications on growth, community character and even equity. The article highlighted Boulder, Colorado, and its struggle to balance inclusive growth with the density it brings. It is a good read, suggesting that a community must craft zoning intentionally to build a future based on shared values.
Village Hall seems to be doing just that, using the recent Envision Oak Park comprehensive plan to inform the zoning review. Nevertheless, more civic involvement is welcome. Catch up on the process via oakparkzoning.com or the banner display at Village Hall. Email your government with comments. Don't wait until it is already law.
Answer Book 2018
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