A woman who stands to lose two rental properties because of clauses in the zoning code filed a second appeal with the village, arguing for the right to refurbish a two-flat that was damaged by a fire in November of 2006.
Amy Perry, an Oak Park resident, owns property at 417 Circle Ave. here in Forest Park. After a kitchen fire rendered the property inhabitable, building inspectors for the village came out to assess the damage. In accordance with the zoning regulations, Mike Boyle, director of the Department of Public Health and Safety, ruled that because the property was a legal non-conforming structure and had suffered at least half its value in damages, Perry would only be allowed to reconstruct a single-family home.
Perry’s property is located in an R-1 zoned district, which does not permit multi-family homes. Her appeal, according to the chairman of the zoning board of appeals, Mike Curry, will be heard at the April 10 ZBA meeting.
“Please begin revising your plans to convert this structure from a two-flat into a single-family residential structure,” Boyle said in a Feb. 8 letter to Perry.
According to Curry, Perry contends that less than half of the structure was damaged in the fire. To repair this damage, Perry must petition for a variance, however, as stressed by Curry, the standards for variations within the zoning code are complicated and inconsistent.
“Everyone has to have a clear understanding of the zoning process and the rules that need to be followed,” Curry said.
If the rules are vague, Curry said, they must be changed. If a rule is ignored the integrity of the codes is lost. Curry is running for election to the village council.
“It is unrealistic to require that a two-flat be torn down and a single-family home be constructed on the same property,” Perry’s attorney stated in an appeal. “The economic loss would exceed $500,000.”
Perry is also appealing another ruling from Boyle that a coach house located on the property must be torn down as well. That structure is also classified as a legal non-conforming unit.
The coach house was not damaged by the fire, however, a faulty heating system prevented the unit from being rented for at least six months, according to Boyle’s Nov. 15, 2006, ruling. Under the zoning code, a legal non-conforming structure that sits vacant for six months must be brought into full compliance with the zoning for that property.
“The coach house has been vacant for eight months,” Boyle said in his November letter to Perry. “As a result, permits will not be given to make any repairs that could restore the coach house to a habitable structure. You must take steps to demolish this structure.”
In her Nov. 17 appeal filed through an attorney, Perry argued the coach house was never vacant and challenged whether the structure should even be classified as a coach house.
“The tenant of this unit had temporarily moved into the two-flat until he could complete the work on the house,” attorney Katie Newsham said in the appeal. “Many of the tenant’s personal possessions have remained in the house and at no time was this property abandoned.”
Repeated attempts to reach Perry for comment were unsuccessful.
Village officials have acknowledged there are a number of legal non-conforming properties in Forest Park, but declined to provide any solid estimates. Curry, however, said in February that it’s likely at least one in every five properties could be jeopardized by the zoning code.
“I can’t even begin to imagine how many there are in Forest Park,” Curry told the Review. “I’m sure it’s more than 20 percent, but I would be surprised if it exceeded 50 percent.”
The ZBA was originally set to address Perry’s case on March 21, but Perry pleaded to push the date back to April so that both issues could be addressed at once.
A brief ZBA meeting was held on March 21. Of the seven ZBA members, only four showed up, three of whom declined to comment.
Boyle, the director of the code enforcement office, must have clearance from Village Administrator Mike Sturino to comment on issues concerning the village. Sturino said it was “wholly inappropriate” of the Forest Park Review to report on the issue before the April 10 meeting.