The ongoing dispute over whether to downzone a portion of Elgin Avenue-in order to prevent an unpopular townhouse development from changing the character of the block-seems, on the surface, to be a classic case of the little guy against the big developer.
It’s hard not to sympathize with the residents of the 400 and 500 blocks of Elgin in their effort to ensure that their quiet, close-knit neighborhood retains the qualities and charm that attracted them to the area in the first place. The proposed townhouses are large, ugly and completely out of character with the surrounding area. The high density residential zoning of the block is archaic and irrelevant.
We support the residents and want the village to balance its support of Forest Park’s skyrocketing residential development market with an effort to retain the village’s character and prevent the homogenization and overcrowding that often accompanies misplaced townhouse development.
But we’re not yet sure if down-zoning the blocks is the way to do this.
Barney O’Reilly, the townhouse developer, as well as other owners of multi-unit properties in the affected area, could suffer significant financial losses if the block is down-zoned. We don’t know if any of these parties would take legal action against the village if it moves forward with the down-zoning, but it’s certainly a possibility.
This could, potentially, create a situation in which all Forest Parkers suffer in order to protect two blocks. And we all know the last thing the village needs is more legal fees.
Of course, the hearings on this issue are still ongoing and the creative thinking of the various parties and commissions involved could still come up with several viable solutions. We hope so.
One possibility already raised is rezoning the blocks to R2, or medium density residential, instead of R1, or low density as currently proposed. This would allow smaller multi-unit properties, but ban the massive multifamily buildings that residents fear. We can see no logical reason why this compromise should not be made.
Another possibility that has been discussed is designating a historic district, which would prevent the demolition of the existing two houses necessary for O’Reilly to build his townhouses. We’re not sure if this move would carry the same potential legal risks as rezoning, but it’s worth exploring.
Village staff and volunteers have, at this point, given no indication that they plan to do anything other than the most thorough and comprehensive research possible to ensure that all bases are covered and all options explored before taking action on this delicate and politically charged situation. Once the matter finally falls into the hands of elected officials, we hope they will take the same responsible approach rather than letting next year’s looming election cloud their judgment.