The village council voted 4-1 last week to amend the village’s zoning code to impose a minimum 25 foot lot requirement for new construction in Forest Park. The original amendment proposed to the council called for a 30 foot lot minimum, but after hearing concerns from the commissioners, Village Attorney Michael Durkin revised the language of the ordinance.

The purpose behind the amendment was mainly to control density by urging construction of larger homes on properties that could be used to build two homes packed together so closely that, as Mayor Anthony Calderone explained, “people would be able to reach out a window and touch their neighbors hand.”

Durkin agreed, stating that some minimum lot requirement, whether 30 or 25 feet, was necessary, as people would find a way to build on even a 10 foot lot if given the chance.

The ordinance pertains to lots of record existing and vacant as of June 27, 2005. It requires that new construction provide minimum side yards of 10 percent of the width of the lot.

The issue of a minimum lot requirement first appeared before council on June 20, when commissioners voted to put a freeze on construction or demolition permits for any single-family residences in lots less than 30 feet wide and direct the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) to consider making the move permanent.

The ZBA voted 4-2 against the amendment on Aug. 15 after hearing pleas from several residents who owned a property consisting of two lots of record, one occupied one vacant. Many said that the vacant property was their retirement nest egg and had lost its value because of the restrictions.

One such resident, Roger Masson, who recently moved to Oak Park from the 1400 block of Marengo, also spoke to the council Monday. He said the freeze caused the purchase of his home to be annulled, and argued that it is unfair to deny those in the southern portion of Forest Park, where 25 foot lots are more common, the opportunities they paid for when purchasing their property.

As a compromise, Commissioner Tim Gillian suggested imposing the minimum lot size requirement but having relevant variance cases appear before an administrative hearing officer for approval rather than going through the ZBA. The idea of sending other routine cases before such an officer was proposed by Commissioner Mark Hosty at the council’s Sept. 26 meeting, and will likely come before the council for a vote in the near future.

Commissioner Patrick Doolin, however, said that the construction of two homes on a 50 foot lot should be discouraged as it damages the character of a neighborhood. An administrative hearing, he implied, might not sufficiently discourage the practice. The commissioners decided to discuss the issue at a later date.

The lone dissenting vote was cast by Hosty, who objected to the change from a 30 to 25 foot minimum.

“We’re making everything under 50 feet unbuildable,” he said. “This puts a moratorium on any building besides a 25 foot lot.”

“The language of the ordinance helped 31 people…(now) a 45 foot lot with a junk house on it cannot rebuild without a 3 month variance process,” added Hosty.

According to Director of Public Health and Safety Michael Boyle, there are about 1,005 lots of record less than 30 feet in width. He did not count lots less than 25 feet since the ordinance originally called for a 30 foot minimum.

He said that there are 33 properties consisting of two lots that have a structure on one lot with the other remaining vacant, and 161 properties consisting of two or more lots that could be redeveloped to hold two separate houses.

The ordinance was also revised to read that “both principal and accessory buildings and uses not involving the conduct of business…” may be constructed on the permitted lots. Durkin noted that though there has been a perception in the past that new construction on lots of records is authorized, the wording of the code actually only permitted accessory uses, such as garages or sheds.