The Forest Park Village Council recently refused to consider charging a one-time fee to developers who convert apartments with inadequate parking to condos. While the problems of increased traffic and parking are real quality of life issues, charging a penalty to developers doesn’t directly address them.

The issue arose at this time because the State of Illinois recently strengthened the hand of non-home rule communities (like Forest Park) when dealing with developers who seek to convert apartments not in compliance with code to condos. Typically older properties receive grandfather clause exceptions when new regulations are passed. Now communities can require developers to upgrade properties as part of condo conversion.

The problem with charging a one-time fee to developers is that they’re not the ones causing parking pressures and increased traffic”at least not directly.

Before becoming a Congressionalist minister at a country church in western Illinois, my mother was a computer programmer who worked for banks, insurance companies, credit bureaus, etc. She worked on data problems which often involved accounting. She once made the point to me that when you fix a problem the expenses should fall on the right parties.

The proposal to charge developers a fee for conversions doesn’t put the cost on the right party. What’s the underlying problem? Too many cars, right? Too many cars create parking pressures and impose a tax on everyone’s time because of increased traffic.

What’s the developer going to do about the added cost? The developer is going to pass along the cost to the condo buyer. The same cost gets passed along to condo buyers who have no cars as have three cars. The penalty the village is levying in anticipation of extra cars falls equally on households with no cars as households with three cars? How does this make sense?

Here’s an alternative. Forest Park should insist that covenants be placed on the condo units with insufficient parking. Those units will only allow the owners and occupiers to have one car if the building has one space per unit, or no cars if it has none. Failure to comply with the covenant will cost some amount ($50?) per month for an extra car with an even higher fee for two extra cars.

This will create a financial incentive for condo owners/residents to only have one car.

Forest Park is extremely well served by rapid transit (aka the “L”) and is served pretty well by bus and Metra. If you live in a two bedroom condo with only one parking space it seems possible to survive with one car, if you know of the restriction in advance.

Over time, penalizing two-car households living in one-car condos will probably generate more revenue for the village than the developer fee.

While some people may like the idea of penalizing developers, they aren’t the ones creating the problem in this scenario. If fact, if Forest Park implemented the one-car-limit-for-one-car-condo covenant then Forest Park would be getting better on both parking and traffic issues. Right now there is no penalty for apartment residents that have two-cars, but only one space. Of course, there is the cost that the resident has to buy a village sticker and find a place to park the car.

The wonks of municipal law will point out that Forest Park doesn’t have the power to implement covenants without home rule powers. Having dealt with the absurdities and technicalities of condo associations, I fear the ability of condo associations to implement arbitrary and picayune rules far more than local government. Stupid rules made by local government have to be justifiable; stupid rules made by condo associations are given the full protection of private property rights.

Forest Park can demand that the covenants be part of the condo association rules. “Mr. Developer, if you want your condo conversion this covenant has to be part of the condo association rules.” The lawyers can come up with the language.

It’s a win-win. The developers get to convert the apartments to condos. The covenants will probably serve to keep the condos more affordable over time. And the covenants will create an ongoing disincentive for owning two or more cars. And they will generate some revenue for the village. The covenants will not penalize or ambush any Forest Park residents. Every resident governed by the covenant will have entered into the arrangement of her/his own free will.

And when other communities see the wisdom of the policy they will say to themselves, “We should be like that forward thinking place, Forest Park.”