In a 4-1 vote on Tuesday, the village council sealed its decision to change the zoning on the 500 block of Elgin Avenue to R-2, effectively stopping a proposed townhouse development.
For some five months, this matter has been subject to review, debate and public comment in both the village council and the zoning board of appeals. Developer Barney O’Reilly proposed to tear down two homes at 504 and 508 Elgin Ave., replacing them with two four-story, townhouses.
This would have been permitted under the previous R-3 zoning code. But neighbors turned out in force to defend the character of their neighborhood, which includes 17 single-family homes, nine two-flats and four multi-unit buildings.
After denying the variances required for O’Reilly’s project, the village council proposed to change the zoning to R-1, single-family, but loosened the proposal to R-2 after some owners of two-flats and multi-unit buildings expressed concern that an R-1 rezoning would make their properties non-conforming and thus reduce their property values.
An R-2 zone will force O’Reilly to change his current, four-story townhouse proposal that was already defeated by a vote of the council, appeal the decision in court. R-2 zoning limits any development to 35 feet (two-and-a-half stories) and allows two-family units and townhouses, but not large multi-family homes.
“What I see happening here is maintaining the character of the existing land uses and ensuring that future development is going to have to stay in the character of the surrounding uses,” Mayor Anthony Calderone said, who was one of the four commissioners voting for the R-2 zoning change.
Commissioner Mark Hosty cast the lone vote against the zoning change, and represented the only vote in favor of O’Reilly’s townhouse project.
“We’re rezoning Harlem Avenue, and I don’t think that’s the best use of the property,” Hosty said. “It should have the ability to be large multiple family housing. It would be a good way to build a wall between the residents and Harlem Avenue.”
Long-term, there are better ways to cope with this problem, Hosty said.
“I think the change in the zoning was a knee-jerk reaction,” Hosty said. “In realty, it has to be looked as more than an emotional issue.”
The Zoning Board of Appeals and the village council previously discussed changing Forest Park into a five-tier zoning system rather than a three-tier zoning system.
“It most likely is going to be a lengthy process that would pertain to the entire village of Forest Park,” Calderone said. “I could foresee that being quite a few months of work and we don’t have any idea of how much it would cost us.”
But during an election year, that may change depending on what issues the politicians choose to pursue, he pointed out.
O’Reilly’s attorney, Tom Pikarski, said his client is “not ruling out any particular option at this point.”
“Clearly, it’s a case that requires scrutiny from us regarding how we want to proceed on this,” Pikarski said.