Artist goes back to the drawing board

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By CAITLIN DEVITT, Contributing writer

Jeanine Guncheon said she was shocked last week when the Forest Park Zoning Board of Appeals voted against her townhouse proposal for 243 Circle Avenue.

"We were totally stunned," said Guncheon of her and partner James Robinson's reaction to last Tuesday's zoning board meeting, where the board recommended against the proposal after several residents opposed it. "There have been huge projects going up all over this village, and we've never heard of this much opposition to anything."

The project is planned around a 1915 stucco house at 243 Circle Avenue. Guncheon and Robinson bought the rundown house late last summer with plans to rehab it and build four rowhouses on vacant lots surrounding the house. Three of the new houses would sit behind the original structure near the alley and one would be attached to the house. All would be connected with a deck.

"Our vision was to do something different and more aesthetic than what we've been seeing," said Guncheon.

But residents who testified at the Jan. 18 meeting said the project was too dense and would likely snarl local traffic.

"The development is too dense for that location," said Mary Kay Minaghan in a later interview. Minaghan, who lives about 100 feet from the site, said the alley in particular is too narrow for the project, and that the traffic would create problems for two nearby schools.

"To push that much into that spot presents a lot of risks for kids in the neighborhood," she said.

But Minaghan wants to see something done with the corner and its "exceptionally dilapidated" house. She said she would even accept more units on the siteā€"it's the way the rowhouses are arranged that worries her.

"When I heard she bought it, I was thrilled," said Minaghan, who was a happy neighbor to one of Guncheon's earlier developments on Ferdinand and Adams. "Part of the issue is she's struggling to maintain an existing home there."

Guncheon estimates it would cost between $200,000 and $300,000 to rehab the house, but she likes it so much she plans to live on the top floor. "I am going to do everything in my power not to tear the house down," Guncheon said. "My main goal is not money. Otherwise I would tear the original house down and put seven rowhouses up."

Guncheon and Robinson own the land, so they do not need the village's approval if they can figure a way around the current zoning variances, which include a curb cut in front and alley setbacks.

Guncheon said she wants to remain on good terms with the village, which means she will head back to the drawing board. But they will construct something on the land either way, she said. And if the smaller project is not passed, they may end up with more units.

"Our goal is to have a good relationship with village," she said. "[But] there's going to be some kind of project over at 243 Circle, and if we can't get it through with minor changes then ... it may not be townhouses, it may be something else."

The zoning code allows for up to seven units on the land.

Forest Park Community Development Director Nancy Hill said the proposal will be heard next by the Plan Commission, which meets Tuesday, Feb. 7.

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