While only half of my choices for the village board were elected last week, I have a few questions for all of them.
I’ll start off with a fact: for nine years now, the value of hundreds of properties in Forest Park has been at risk. Not through identity theft or real estate fraud, but by the careless action and continued inaction of our village’s government. A zoning code intended to ban the conversion of single-family homes into two-flats has hung like a verbal Sword of Damocles over the heads of many who own genuine two-flats.
For eight years under Anthony Calderone, our government stood by as an ineptly written amendment to the zoning code, made law on his watch in May 1998, held the potential to gut the value of hundreds of so called legal non-conforming properties. As a result, people were forced to endure the anxiety of variance applications and lawyers’ fees. That environment can be different, if our new commissioners care enough to make it so.
Start with Amy Perry, who purchased a two-flat and coach house at 417 Circle Ave. in 2004 as income property. She now stands to lose two of those three rental units due to a ruling from village staff that a November fire damaged the main house in excess of half its estimated market value. Under our zoning code, Perry will only be allowed to reconstruct the main house as a single-family home, never mind that it was designed as a classic two-flat in 1930.
The village also ruled that the 77-year-old coach house at the rear of the property is now illegal after having been allegedly unoccupied for more than six months. Village staff determined that the structure had to be torn down, never mind that the zoning code doesn’t offer a working definition of “occupied.”
Those serving on the zoning board of appeals, whatever their personal opinions, can only work with the existing code. ZBA Chairman Mike Curry called the standards for granting zoning variations complicated and inconsistent and said they should be rewritten. Curry and his ZBA colleagues rendered a fair and thoughtful decision to spare Perry’s coach house from a meeting with the wrecking ball on April 10, and I believe Curry and Marty Tellalian will continue that practice as newly elected village commissioners.
Whether the other village commissioners and the mayor will do the same remains to be seen. This body has a history of overturning even unanimous votes by the zoning board.
Anthony Calderone likes to portray himself as a selfless public servant, but the zoning code remains an ill-defined mess. Over the eight years he set the village council agenda, he never bothered to begin the process of correcting a problem he had a direct hand in creating.
That’s not to say the mayor can’t get things done. Calderone did make it a priority to give himself a pay increase of about 750 percent.
So, new commissioners-will you be authentic public servants when people like Amy Perry are struck by catastrophes? Or will you parrot the careless practices of past village councils and allow words in a code book to be placed around property owner’s necks, cinched tight as they’re forced to explain why you shouldn’t kick the chair out from under their feet?