The most significant decision made at the Zoning Board of Appeals Meeting of September 19th was the approval of Michael Pace’s plan to build a restaurant and condominiums at 7410 West Madison. The site is the location of the shuttered China Night Restaurant. Pace, who operates La Bella and the Avenue Alehouse in Oak Park, plans to construct six residential units above his new restaurant. He scaled down the height of the project from 57 feet to 50 feet to win board approval.

Still, the proceedings were not without controversy, as residents questioned the adequacy of Pace’s parking plan, the biggest question being where will his employees park? Pace anticipated that he will have twenty part-time and full-time employees. He will allow his workers to use the restaurant’s valet parking and mentioned that he has an oral agreement with Forest Park National Bank to use spaces in the bank’s parking lot.

This plan did not satisfy several residents. Steve Backman, after thanking Pace for reducing the density of his project, calculated that ten restaurant tables typically generate twenty cars that need to be parked. He said he would like Pace to provide five parking spaces for employees.

Backman’s wife, Gloria, also urged Pace to “become part of the solution.”

“Employees park in front of our house every day ” help solve the problem.”

Board Member Michael Curry asked Pace if he could further reduce the size of his restaurant to accommodate more parking.

“We can continue to cut back on the building,” Pace said, “But then we wouldn’t have a business.” The board approved his plan 5-0 and now it will go to the Village Council for approval.

Developer Ray Rozado was not as fortunate in having his zoning variance granted for the property at 212 Marengo. Rozado planned to replace the existing house with a four-unit building. The property is currently zoned R-2 and would have to be changed to R-3. Rozado argued that there was a nine-flat and a fifty-unit apartment building flanking the property and that his project would be in keeping with the character of the community.

Resident John Olson did not agree. He predicted that, “Granting this variance would set a precedent for the whole block.” He feared that it would lead to other single-family structures being replaced. Olson also predicted that Rozado’s plan would be approved. “Homeowners fight tooth and nail [for a variance] but developers with lawyers and architects get the welcome mat.”

After Rozado’s request was turned down, he told the board, “I’d like to thank you for everything you did for me tonight.”

Debb Watson-Hammond, one of those “tooth and nail” homeowners Olson was referring to, was granted a variance to add dormers to her coach house at 310 Marengo. She emphasized that the added bedrooms “won’t change the height or footprint of the house. It won’t affect the aesthetics and my neighbors have sent me letters saying they have no objections.” Her plans for the addition were approved.

Second story additions were also approved for the properties at 1130 Marengo, 631 Hannah, 1106 Lathrop and 1413 Elgin.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.