After listening to concerned citizen after concerned citizen for three hours Monday night, the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) finally got around to voting on the village’s proposal to change the zoning on the 400 and 500 blocks of Elgin Avenue. In the end, the ZBA decided on a compromise solution, rejecting a proposal to change the zoning from R-3 multifamily to R-1 single family. Instead the ZBA voted 5-1 to recommend that the Forest Park Village Council change the zoning to R-2. Jolynn Crawford cast the only dissenting vote.
R-2 zoning allows two flats and townhouses, but restricts the height of buildings to 35 feet instead of the 60-foot height allowed in areas zoned R-3.
Crawford said she didn’t think R-2 zoning would solve the problems with density that many neighbors were concerned about.
“I have a hard time seeing how changing it to R-2 is going to restrict the density issue on that block,” said Crawford.
Although the village was the petitioning party for the change in zoning from R-3 to R-1, village staff prepared a report that recommended the ZBA either change zoning to R-2 or push for a change of Forest Park’s current three-tier zoning system to a five-class system throughout the village.
While some ZBA members thought a five-class system would be more flexible, it was decided that a switch to a five-class system would take many months to complete and would be very expensive for the village because of the consultant fees it would incur.
The rezoning issue was sent to the ZBA by the village council as a way of getting public input after a 12-unit townhouse development was proposed by Cherryfield Development’s Barney O’Reilly.
A limited partnership, in which O’Reilly is a partner, bought two homes, 504 and 508 Elgin Ave., from the estate of Sharon Calderone, the late mother of Mayor Anthony Calderone.
O’Reilly has proposed tearing down the two old homes and erecting six townhouses on each lot. In March the ZBA unanimously voted to recommend against granting the variances for the project that O’Reilly was seeking. When the matter came before the village council, instead of voting on the variances, the council kicked the controversial issue back to the ZBA and asked them to consider rezoning the east side of Elgin to R-1 low density from R-3 high density.
Mayor Calderone has said he has no financial stake in the property and the trustee of his mother’s estate was a sister and he had no role in selling the property to O’Reilly. The mayor, who grew up in the 504 Elgin house, has sat quietly through the two long ZBA hearings on rezoning, though he left Monday night before the ZBA voted.
O’Reilly hired a lawyer who spoke against rezoning to the ZBA. Tom Pikarski argued that no good case was made to change the zoning and that the area was suited for high density because of its proximity to downtown Forest Park and public transportation.
Some owners of two flats and multi-unit buildings in the affected area were concerned that a rezoning to R-1 would make their properties non-conforming and thus reduce the value of their property.
Other residents wanted to preserve the quiet residential nature of their neighborhood which is predominantly single-family but does contain two-flats and a even a 24-unit, three-story apartment building just down the block from the two homes that O’Reilly would like to tear down.
Many residents expressed concern about the size of the proposed development that would exacerbate existing problems with flooding and traffic.
Now the matter goes before the village council for a final determination.
“I don’t know if there is any correct solution that would satisfy the citizens and the developers,” said ZBA chairman Michael Curry.