The days of the five hour Zoning Board of Appeals meeting might be coming to an end, as the village is in the process of preparing an ordinance that would allow some minor variance requests to go straight to the village council for a vote without first needing the recommendation of the ZBA.
Commissioner Mark Hosty first announced the possibility at a village council meeting on Sept. 26, framing it as a way to streamline the process of receiving village permission for routine projects that do not affect property boundaries.
“It will be less stressful on single family homeowners, and it leaves the ZBA with more time to focus on the issues that actually need to be reviewed,” said Hosty.
He said that along with Village Administrator Michael Sturino and Building Department Director Mike Boyle, he has been studying similar ordinances already on the books in villages including LaGrange Park and Darien.
Forest Park’s ordinance, said Hosty, would likely appoint a hearing administrator, most likely the building department’s Boyle, who would be able to select cases to be sent directly to the council.
Though the details of which cases would be eligible to skip a ZBA hearing are still being worked out, Hosty said examples would likely include garage reconstructions or possibly second floor additions to single family units that are already slightly over property lines.
“I think it’s a very pragmatic way to approach a number of small zoning matters that really fill up our zoning board’s docket,” said Mayor Anthony Calderone, noting that the ZBA is currently hearing more cases than it ever has before.
Calderone said the village has begun to receive complaints from residents who could not get their cases heard in time because the ZBA had a full docket.
“At the last zoning meeting there were four or five items on there that need to be on there legally but shouldn’t really have to come up in front of a meeting,” said ZBA member William McKenzie.
In the past, variance issues have often led to 3-2 council votes, with Commissioners Patrick Doolin and Terry Steinbach calling for more restraint from the council’s majority, who tend to follow the ZBA’s recommendations.
In this case, though, the proposal has garnered support from both sides. “I think it’s a good idea not to delay a homeowner by several months so they can do nothing more than take down an old garage ” the process should be expedited for those individuals,” said Doolin.
He said that the remodeling process is extremely time sensitive since most projects can only be completed during warm weather months, and not getting the village’s OK in a timely manner can prevent residents from getting the contractor they wanted or from being able to complete their desired project altogether.
“(The current structure) is a colossal waste of resources…we’re using a lot of dead trees for issues that don’t really take much thought,” he said.
Zoning board members said they would support the ordinance as long as the right set of conditions are put in place.
“I have concerns when you start putting too much responsibility in one person’s hands when you have unpaid, unsolicited people to do that,” said ZBA member Al Bucholtz.
Still, Bucholtz said that he would not have a problem with the ordinance as long as it included clear criteria for which cases the hearing administrator could send directly to council.
Hosty ensured that such criteria would exist, and that requests that affect property lines, parking or anything else that could be seen raising concerns from neighbors would still go through the regular procedure.
Doolin said that he would like to see the requirement that petitioners notify neighbors of planned changes remain in place even for the cases that skip the ZBA.
If the council were to reject one of the requests that had not previously been heard by the ZBA, Hosty said the petitioner would still have the opportunity to go before the ZBA for a public hearing, as mandated by the village’s zoning code.
At ZBA meetings, unlike council meetings, residents are given the chance to verbally argue their cases, though they can submit written correspondence for review by the council.
“When a request fails (the petitioner) always has a chance to restate their case,” said Hosty. “They’d have the opportunity to go back, modify it, go back to the ZBA and restate it to the council.”
Hosty said he hoped to have an ordinance ready to be presented to the village council by late October or early November.