Forest Park’s village council voted unanimously Monday night to begin the process of rezoning the 400 and 500 blocks of Elgin Avenue from high density residential (R-3) to low density (R-1) by sending the matter to the Forest Park Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA)for a public hearing.
The discussion was brought about by a controversial proposal to tear down two old homes in order to construct a 12-unit townhouse complex at 504 and 508 Elgin Avenue. That proposal from developer Barney O’Reilly was unanimously shot down by the zoning board in March, with concerns about the density and “barrack”-like appearance of the development among the issues brought up by the board.
Bob Cox, who moderated a meeting in April during which about 50 residents gathered to explore their options for stopping the townhouse development, said the council’s vote was a small victory, but by no means the end.
“We were expecting that at least the door would be open for us. Now we have our work cut out for us in preparing for the hearings [before the zoning board],” he said.
Should the change be made, the maximum height of buildings on the block would drop from five stories or 60 feet to 2.5 stories or 35 feet. The permitted number of dwelling units would also drop significantly.
Commissioner Patrick Doolin said he thought the village should consider a middle ground, noting that the village’s comprehensive plan calls for the 500 block of Elgin to be zoned medium density, or R-2.
“We can’t pick and choose in different pockets what we should do,” he said. “This block was addressed by the vision in the comprehensive plan.”
Doolin acknowledged that following the plan could also complicate matters to some degree, as the 400 block of Elgin is intended to be a “commercial corridor” by the plan.
Currently, the east side of the 400 and 500 blocks of Elgin are zoned R-3.
Mayor Anthony Calderone noted that the request to the zoning board is non-binding and the zoning board would be able to consider all options for the blocks.
“[The ZBA] can accept, reject, or modify the request”it’s up to them,” he said.
After a public hearing before the ZBA, after which the ZBA will vote on a recommendation to the council, the matter will return to the council for a final decision.
In a letter to the village council, Village Administrator Michael Sturino said neither he nor village staff had yet opined on the appropriateness of the proposed zoning change or the potential legal issues that could arise from a zoning change.
Other options that have been explored by residents seeking to prevent the townhouse development have included petitioning to become a historic district, which could prevent historic homes in the district from being demolished.