In recent years teardowns have become a big issue in affluent suburbs such as Hinsdale and Lake Forest. Now teardowns and the issues connected to them have come to Forest Park.
Last week more than 40 people attended a workshop on tear downs sponsored by Citizens United in Forest Park (CUinFP). The speakers included Lake Forest Village manager Robert Kiely, Ellen Shubart, a Glencoe village trustee who has recently retired from a job with the Campaign for Sensible Growth, and Ken Learner, who has campaigned against tear downs in Downers Grove.
Shubart defined a teardown as the demolition of an existing home to make way for a significantly larger new home in the same site. According to the speakers, some of the problems caused by teardowns include new homes not consistent with the character of a neighborhood, the loss of historic structures, new homes that are too big for the lot and that cut off the light to neighboring houses, the loss of affordable and diverse housing stock, the loss of trees and green space, and negative effects on storm water drainage.
Still, Shubart said that not all tear downs should be prohibited.
“You can’t save everything,” said Shubart. “You can’t be out there thinking that every house should stay up. That’s not the normal order of things.”
That’s also the view of Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone, who said that a balance must be struck between efforts at preservation and the need to improve the village’s housing stock.
“I didn’t come into this job wanting Forest Park to be a stale community,” said Calderone. “Housing is going to stagnate or grow. I’m most concerned that the things that are built are compatible to the neighborhood around them both in size and architectural appeal. I’m also a believer in progress.”
The first purchase of a home to tear it down in Forest Park was approximately two years ago, when a tiny cottage built on a slab in the 7700 block of Monroe was purchased by Cherryfield Development and replaced with a new, larger home. But teardowns here have not reached anything like the scale in Hinsdale, where 15 percent of the total housing stock is teardowns.
There were 10 house demolitions in Forest Park in 2005, according to Forest Park director of Public Health and Safety Mike Boyle.
Calderone said most of the teardowns in Forest Park so far and been of small cottage type homes of about 800 to 850 square feet. These small homes are not desirable in today’s market, Calderone said.
“Some of the tear downs here have been, quite frankly, of homes that have outlived their usefulness,” said Calderone. “We have to find a balance between small homes and McMansions.”
Tear downs in Forest Park can be seen as an indication that Forest Park is a desirable community. “I see it as a good problem,” said Calderone.
Currently Forest Park has no special regulations regarding tear downs, Boyle said. A homeowner wants who wants to tear down his home just needs to apply to the village for a demolition permit. The cost of the permit depends on the size of the house, $100 for the first 8000 square feet and $25 more for each additional 8000 square foot increment.
If the new home that a property owner wants to build requires a variance from the village, the property owner must appear before the zoning board of appeals and ultimately the village council which decides whether to grant the necessary variances.
Lake Forest has much stiffer requirements, charging a $10,000 demolition tax to an owner that wishes to tear down a home. Forest Park, which is not a home rule community, cannot levy such a tax.
Lake Forest’s historic preservation commission has the power to declare a home historic and thus prohibit unilateral exterior alternations without the approval of the commission. But Forest Park’s newly formed commission lacks the power to declare a structure historic without the consent of the owner.
Some communities, including Riverside, have passed demolition delay ordinances which force developers to wait a prescribed period of time before they can demolish a home after acquiring it. The theory behind such regulations is that if a town throws up enough obstacles to teardowns, developers will decide that it’s just not worth the bother.
Calderone said he is not opposed to developing a village policy toward tear downs.
“We need some policies in place to trigger a mechanism to give us as a village time to understand the process,” Calderone said.
Commissioners Terry Steinbach and Patrick Doolin attended the meeting.
Doolin, who is a real estate agent by profession and lives on a block that has seen three tear downs, said that, managed properly, tear downs can be a good thing. He noted that Forest Park, unlike Lake Forest, does not have many homes built by architecturally significant architects and has some tiny homes that were not well built.
“Some of the housing that’s up, it shouldn’t be there,” said Doolin. “Each property has to be assessed on case by case basis.”
Doolin said that he would support some kind of a teardown ordinance and is especially concerned about replacing single family homes with multifamily buildings.
“It could be cumbersome or something as simple as it has to go before the historic preservation commission or the plan commission,” he said.