Despite receiving a recommendation against creating the position from the Zoning Board of Appeals in November, the village council voted 4-1 on Monday to create the new position of zoning administrator.
The position is intended to expedite the process of receiving routine variances, including, for example, receiving permission to replace an already non-conforming garage or add a second floor to a home that is already slightly over property lines.
During the time designated for public comment at the start of the meeting, resident and Citizens United in Forest Park (CUinFP) President Steven Backman spoke out against the position, suggesting that it places too much power in the hands of one individual.
“Part of our ‘small town charm’ is that we can go before a board of our peers,” he said.
In a recommendation to Village Administrator Michael Sturino from Director of Public Health and Safety Michael Boyle, Boyle stated that establishing the position could allow greater flexibility by allowing multiple hearings during the course of the month. He noted that all recent cases heard by the zoning board and village council in which expansion of a non-conforming single family structure was sought without seeking to increase lot coverage have been approved.
Though zoning board members had requested to be able to retain oversight of the process by reviewing decisions made by the administrator, the recommendation stated that this would create delays for petitioners and negate the desired effect of streamlining the zoning process.
Commissioner Mark Hosty suggested that the language of the ordinance be amended so petitioners be given the option of appearing before the zoning board if desired, but Village Attorney Michael Durkin advised that this amendment would require further amendments to specify exactly how the process would work.
Hosty eventually voted for the ordinance in its current form.
Commissioner Terry Steinbach, who voted against the establishment of the new position, said her objection was not to the position itself but to the individual who would be given the job.
Under the proposed ordinance, the responsibility of zoning administrator would go to Boyle, who oversees the building department.
Steinbach said that since applicants work with the building department in preparing their variance requests, the administrator would essentially be reviewing his own work when deciding on requests.
“I just think we need some checks and balances,” said Steinbach. She made a motion to amend the ordinance to remove Boyle from the role of zoning administrator, but the motion was not seconded by any of the other commissioners, and therefore did not proceed.
Even with the new position, if the zoning administrator were to reject a variance request, the petitioner would still have the opportunity to appear before the zoning board and then the village council to reargue the case.