More than 35 people turned out Monday night for a public hearing by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) on a proposal to change the zoning of the 400 and 500 blocks of the east side of Elgin Avenue from R-3 multifamily to R-1 single family. After taking public comment for more than two hours the ZBA made no decision and voted to continue the matter to its next regularly scheduled meeting on August 21.
A proposal by builder Barney O’Reilly to demolish two homes at 504 and 508 Elgin Ave. that were once owned by the late Sharon Calderone, mother of Mayor Anthony Calderone, and build a 12 unit townhouse development has created uproar in the neighborhood. Calderone was an interested observer Monday night sitting quietly in the back and making no public comment.
In March the ZBA unanimously voted to deny the variances necessary for O’Reilly’s project. But rather than take action on the matter the Village Council instructed the ZBA to hold a hearing on rezoning the two blocks of Elgin to R-1 single family, which would effectively kill the project.
There are currently 17 single family homes on the blocks to be rezoned, nine two flats and four multiunit buildings according to Village Administrator Michael Sturino.
Tom Pikarski, a lawyer representing the current owners of the property, 504-508 Elgin, LLC, spoke against the rezoning. Pikarski identified the members of 504-508 Elgin LLC. as O’Reilly and Kevin Alexander.
Pikarski argued that the proposed down zoning did not meet any of the eight factors that courts have used to analyze rezoning. He argued that the area is suitable for high density development and that the proposed rezoning would cost his clients a lot of money.
He argued that the proximity of the blocks to two CTA stations and Harlem Avenue make the area perfect for high density development. He noted that if the rezoning occurred 43 percent of the properties in the two block area would become non-conforming uses.
After Pikarski finished a long line of residents spoke.
Fourteen argued in favor of the rezoning while six, all multiunit owners of property in the two block area, argued against the rezoning.
Julie Herwitt said she moved to Forest Park from Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago after seeing that neighborhood become congested, dense and lose its character after high density redevelopment.
“I don’t want to see the same thing happen here in our neighborhood,’ said Herwitt. “We believe the zoning should be more consistent with what’s on Elgin, not with what’s on Harlem.”
Rich Vitton, the chairman of Forest Park’s historic preservation commission argued that the village should seek to preserve existing housing stock. The two homes that O’Reilly is seeking to demolish are both around 100 years old. One, Vitton said, is a big Victorian home built in the late 19th century and the other, an American Four Square, was built in the early 20th century.
“I ask you here today as commissioners and citizens of the village of Forest Park to change this outdated zoning ordinance and to send a clear message to developers and others like them that Forest Park will not and can not be put on the auction block and sold like a soiled dove.”
It is believed that the blocks have been zoned R-3 since 1959.
Betty Lucey has lived at 512 Elgin for 47 years and said she did not want the block to change.
“If they build those big buildings it wouldn’t be the same,” said Lucey.
However, owners on existing multifamily buildings in the area argued that the proposed zoning change would reduce the value of their properties. They said that if their properties become non-conforming uses they could not rebuild them if they were more than 50 percent destroyed.
Because of this it would also cost them more to insure their buildings and reduce resale value, said Patrick Cerceo of Circle Property Management which owns a 24 unit apartment building at 520 Elgin.
“We’re caught in the middle,” said Cerceo.
Rachael Karlin owns a two flat on a tiny lot at 7201 Adams which is included in the proposed zoning change was one of two Adams street property owners to speak against the zoning change.
“If you down zone I think you should just confiscate my property,” said Karlin. “It will be absolutely worthless. There might be good reason to change Elgin. There is no good reason to change Adams.
As the ZBA voted unanimously to continue the hearing, ZBA chairman Michael Curry said that perhaps a change to R-2, instead of R-3 should be considered. R-2 would allow two family units and town homes, but not large multifamily buildings. A change to R-2 zoning would drop the maximum height of buildings on the street from five stories or 60 feet to 2 ½ stories or 35 feet.
But Curry said he has not yet made up his mind.
“I haven’t formulated an opinion if it should be down zoned to R-1 or R-2,” said Curry.
Sturino said that village staff will do more work and will take into account the comments he heard Monday night.
“Everyone had excellent comments for and against and staff will consider it,” said Sturino. Village staff has not yet made a recommendation for or against the rezoning.