Let’s hope builder Barney O’Reilly had a good St. Patrick’s Day because he sure didn’t have a good night Monday before the Forest Park Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).
The ZBA unanimously voted against recommending variances that would allow O’Reilly to tear down two large old homes, including the home of the late Sharon Calderone, mother of Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone, in order to build a 12 unit townhouse development at 504 and 508 Elgin Avenue. According to state records, the homes are currently owned by 504-508 Elgin, LLC.
More than 20 people turned out to speak against the proposal, creating an unusually large crowd for a ZBA hearing. Fifteen people signed a letter opposing the project.
“We are opposed to destroying these two large, near one hundred year homes in order to erect 4 story barracks like buildings covering almost every square foot of the lots,” the letter read in part.
O’Reilly, who owns the company Cherryfield Development, Inc., sought variances to allow him to increase the lot coverage from 40 per cent to 47 per cent, to increase the number of dwelling units from four to six on each lot, to reduce the front and rear yard setbacks and to reduce the number of shade trees required on each lot.
That was too much for the ZBA, which has been taking a harder line against developers’ requests for variances in recent months.
Rich Vitton, chair of the village’s new Historic Preservation Commission also spoke against the request.
“This is absolutely out of place with the structures in that area,” said Vitton.
The ZBA also unanimously voted against another O’Reilly project that would build six town homes that would sell for around $400,000 each at 137 Desplaines Avenue.
There, O’Reilly was seeking variances to increase lot coverage from 40 percent to 49 percent, increase the number of dwelling units allowed from four to six, and to reduce setback and shade tree requirements.
“I don’t see how you can think that’s in character with the neighborhood,” said ZBA member Bill McKenzie. “It looks like a schoolhouse.”
ZBA members did not feel that O’Reilly would suffer any hardship if the variance was not granted. “You can build four units and still make money,” ZBA member Jolyn Crawford told O’Reilly.
O’Reilly fared just a bit better on another proposal Monday night. He sought a variance to allow him to build a new home and garage at 1418 Marengo Ave. O’Reilly sought to increase the lot coverage on the small 25 foot lot to 47.7 per cent from the allowed 40 per cent.
The ZBA, as it did with a similar proposal on another 25 foot lot at 1027 Hannah, voted 4-3 to recommend that the Village Council grant a variance to allow 44 per cent lot coverage.
The ZBA has continually wrestled with the problems of trying to build modern, spacious homes on 25 foot lots and staying within the village’s zoning codes, a task many builders and property owners say is almost impossible.
“The village needs to take a look at this whole (lot) coverage issue on 25 foot lots,” said Bill Liss, whose request for a variance to build a new home on his 25 foot lot was turned down by the ZBA last year, but was ultimately granted by the village council. “The 40 foot lot coverage issue is a tough nut to crack on a 25 foot lot.”
All votes by the ZBA are only recommendations. The Village Council will have the final say on all these matters.