Forest Park is a smoking town
There goes John Rice again with his progressive (we know what’s best for everyone else) views on the smoking/non-smoking issues. Forest Park is a drinking/smoking town, and it has always been. A lot of thriving businesses draw customers from out of town. It is good for business and great for our town’s tax coffers. Progressive (i.e. liberal) Oak Park will probably soon outlaw smoking in bars and restaurants where alcohol is served. So John Rice will soon be able to enjoy Oak Park’s fern bars, tofu burgers, vegan fare and other sleepy atmospheres.

Mike O’Malley

‘Sucker-punched’ over non-conforming property
When I bought my ‘non-conforming property’ almost three years ago, I was not invited to the meeting where “the village informs them of the fact when they purchase it. They buy these (non-conforming) properties anyways knowing full well what they’re getting into…”(Forest Park Review, 3/23/05.)

Are you kidding me?

What I did have was a top-notch, experienced area realtor who also was not invited to that meeting, and is appalled today at my experience. Of course we knew the property was non-conforming, but we did not know “what I was getting into.”

I thought I bought a beautiful historic Victorian at the corner of Marengo & Adams, which has a Prairie home at the rear of the lot which faces Adams. The Victorian was built by our first mayor in the late 1800’s and at some point was converted to a 2 flat. The Prairie home was built 15-20 years later. My plans for the property included de-converting the Victorian back to a single family home and hopefully restoring it to its original splendor. I imagined this process would take 5 to 10 years, both for financial reasons and appreciation for my long time tenants on the first floor (26+ years.) No good reason to kick the nuns out.

Not long before I bought the Marengo property, the village was awarding grants to encourage its homeowners to de-convert their properties. Sounds rational and promotes a wonderful sense of partnership between the Village and its citizens. And, as noted, de-conversion has always been our goal. On no one’s radar was the notion that the Village wanted the Prairie home demolished.

I believe the appropriate term is sucker-punched.

There is absolutely no mechanism for the Village to inform a potential buyer about any property ” not now, not three years ago. And if the Village tells them when they purchase it, well, it’s too late then, isn’t it? It is self-serving to believe “everyone” knows the peculiarities of how and in what circumstances Forest Park’s zoning is administered. I don’t know one person in this Village who feels confident as to how zoning is applied. It’s a constant surprise. The local newspaper now devotes ½ page to this issue (!)

I assume as a public service to our citizens. At what point in time did the homeowners of Forest Park become the enemy?

My request to build a one-car garage with a lovely rooftop deck and to re-build an extremely dangerous interior staircase was denied by both the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Village Board. A couple of irate residents at these meetings accused me of “trying to improve my property” and “trying to increase the value of my property.” Funny, what some folks consider a crime. Please note that even with the garage, my structures use less than 40 percent of the lot. How many homeowners in town can make that claim?

To transform my property as per the village’s vision (de-convert immediately and demolish the “coach house,”) is financially unfeasible ” both for me or any subsequent owner. And, with no parking, nor being allowed a sensible correction to a serious code violation, my property becomes functionally obsolete. That makes the ZBA’s suggestion to stay in my home and do nothing a very foolish financial choice. It certainly does nothing to further the Villages’ agenda. I believe this is called a “lose-lose” situation.

For the greater good and my sanity, I want the Village to clarify a few zoning terms.

What does “legal non-conforming” mean in Forest Park? By most accounts at least 75% of the housing in this town does not conform to present zoning ordinances. But the Village is not asking homeowners that use more than 40% of their lot to tear down their homes and start again. No, they are given variances to build another deck. Nor are houses that have less than a 10′ setback, or side yard, or whatever being asked to “go away.”

In September a coach house was given a variance to build dormers, but in October my “coach house” needs to be demolished. Hmm. Apparently some zoning ordinances are “weighted” and all are subject to change without notice. So, please publish the cheat sheet. Exactly which properties do you want demo’d or to “go away?”

What does “density” mean? The village apparently has targeted only certain properties as too dense, but the logic escapes me and others. My property at 447 Marengo has 3 units that occupy 35% of the lot, and is labeled too dense. On the other hand, at 447 Elgin, the same lot as mine, the same R1 zoning as mine, and only 125 feet from my front door, the Village recently allowed that lot to accommodate 19 units which occupy 100% of the lot and provide no parking.

What does “not in character” mean? Adams is a multi-use street. Of the 17 properties on Adams between Harlem and Circle, whether built in the past or just recently, only 1 property conforms to R1 zoning. Along all of Adams, we have a church, a playground, the Moose Hall, the VFW Hall, condo developments, 2 and 3 flats, many “coach houses” and very few single family homes. It appears my property is being held to a different standard.

The inconsistency and murkiness of the zoning administration is the core of my issues. Here are my recommendations to resolve them.

For present homeowners, I suggest that if the Village is sincere about eradicating particular non-conforming properties that they do so with integrity ” go on record, grab them by eminent domain, and develop them as they wish – on their dime. It’s just not right to invite unsuspecting folks to move to and invest in your town ” and then ask them to “donate” their hard cash and home appreciation to the Village’s Naper-like conformity cause.

To inform and protect buyers who are considering moving here, call a press conference for all the local newspapers and announce that zoning in Forest Park has taken a Draconian turn ” for certain types of properties. Describe in detail and/or give addresses of those properties. It is equally important to contact the Oak Park Area Board of Realtors, invite our 500+ realtors to a meeting and explain to them your zoning plan so they can properly advise their clients.

It is unconscionable for the Village to allow more “homeowners (that) will have to take significant financial losses” because they bought the wrong type of property (Joellyn Charlton, Senior Consultant to the Building Dept, to Sharon Daly, August 2005.)

Finally, let’s talk about vision.

Throw a perfectly lovely and sound home into our overflowing garbage dumps? What are they thinking? As an urban suburb, we should be giving design awards for creative use of existing buildings and space, not limited to Victorian rehabs. We need to stretch our creativity. Perhaps we’ll call it the “Lemons to Lemonade” Award.

Home magazines are filled with stories of brilliant solutions for nonconforming homes and properties. For the most part, tear-downs are for lazy people with too much money. Enough of our “throw away society.” Our town has significant housing challenges, but trying to solve them as if we are a new development area is not only painful, it is impossible.

If anyone would like to kick around ideas for a creative and positive process that will allow Forest Park to grow in beauty and vitality while not razing ½ the town and screwing the homeowners, just give me a call at (708) 366-0360.

Sharon Daly

St. Bernardine Game Day
To the friends and supporters of the St. Bernardine Athletic Program,

We want to thank all those who attended Game Day and those that put an ad in our Game Day book. Without your help and support we could not be successful. Our game day this year was well attended and all had a wonderful time.

A special thanks to the Game Day Committee for a job well done. We’d also like to thank Jim Shaw for his help on Game Day morning, Trage Brothers for their continued support over the years, and Charlie Robinson for the great food. We couldn’t do this without you.

We wish you all a very blessed Christmas and a healthy and prosperous new year. Looking forward to seeing you all at next year’s Game Day.

St. Bernardine Athletic Association and the Children of St. Bernardine School