When village commissioners voted this month to reject a townhouse development proposed for Elgin Avenue, the majority members did exactly what they shouldn’t have.
It’s true that dozens of residents turned out asking that the project not be allowed to go through, and that effort was sustained for several months. But it’s also true that developer Barney O’Reilly played by the rules put in place by the village, only to find out that the village isn’t happy with its rules.
Sorry, commissioners, but you had time to rewrite the zoning ordinance prior to O’Reilly’s proposal. The developer should not be the one to suffer hardship on this. The appropriate thing to do would have been to approve O’Reilly’s townhouses and then begin to revise the ordinances so the village can clearly guide future development.
The last-minute defeat of a project that complies with the zoning ordinance offers no guidance to future developers or future commissioners.
What would offer a clear sense of direction for everyone involved is a zoning ordinance that reflects the wishes of its residents. Mayor Anthony Calderone said he accepts responsibility for the lack of consistency in the zoning codes, and realizes this issue must be a priority. For the residents who had to defend their neighborhood and the developer who had to defend his project, this acknowledgement should have come much earlier in the review process. Had this happened, Forest Park could be that much closer to having an ordinance in place for the next applicant.
A separate but related concern we have with the vote on this proposal is the apparent gall of village commissioners in ignoring the recommendations of paid staff. The village administrator stated in no uncertain terms that the project complied with Forest Park’s zoning. The village attorney warned that defeating the proposal could lead to court action.
A vote contrary to these facts makes us wonder whether commissioners were simply voting to spare themselves a scourge of angry letters from constituents.
There is no doubt that these elected officials must answer to the voters, but in this case the village was behind the eight ball through no fault of the developer. If the majority voted as it did to make the residents happy, then it voted irresponsibly. What residents should have heard was an explanation that the village’s zoning regulations have failed to keep pace with the market.
What they heard instead is that mob rule is law.
In the Sept. 13 edition of the Forest Park Review, a story on page 15 incorrectly reported a change in the zoning ordinance for the 400 and 500 blocks on Elgin Avenue. The Village Council did not approve a change to the zoning. The council voted to direct its attorney to draft an ordinance rezoning those properties from an R-3 zone to an R-2 zone.
In the Sept. 13 edition of the Forest Park Review, a story on page 14 needs clarification. District 209 board member Charles Flowers referred to Chief Education Officer Robert Libka as the district’s superintendent. Libka is the administrator Flowers intended to hold responsible for a series of problems at the Proviso Mathematics and Science Academy, not former superintendent Phyllistine Murphy.