The zoning board of appeals held off on deciding whether property owners would be required to display signs notifying passersby of a public hearing to discuss changes to the property, but it appears the requirement may have enough for support for an approval.
During an Aug. 20 meeting, at least three of the five ZBA members voiced their support despite objections from village staff. The proposal would amend the zoning ordinance to require a sign be posted on property that is subject to a hearing before the ZBA, the zoning administrator, or the plan commission.
The proposal is the brainchild of Commissioner Mike Curry, who oversees the Department of Public Health and Safety.
“We need to let all of our neighbors and concerned citizens know what’s going on in Forest Park,” Curry said. “Having a sign is another mechanism for letting our citizens know what’s going on with your neighbor. I campaigned on transparency in government and informing people on what’s going on. This is another way of doing it.”
Curry is a former chairman of the ZBA.
Village staff argued such a requirement is unnecessary under the law and would an added responsibility to keep up with.
Currently, the village sends out letters to residents who live within 250 feet of a property that is to be the subject of a hearing. Additionally, public notices of all hearings are advertised in local newspapers, and the agendas are posted at village hall and on the village’s website.
But most of the 11 people attending the discussion supported the sign requirement, putting further pressure on dissenters.
Gloria Backman, an organizing member of an advocacy group for village residents, said the pros outweigh the cons.
“More information is always better than less information,” Backman said.
The proposal also drew support from at least three of the five ZBA members.
“There is good reason to give more notice to the public,” ZBA member Ray Paulin said. “It helps get people involved and confident that the process is legal and above board.”
But ZBA member Austin Zimmer worried that the signs would be an eyesore.
“I’d much rather see the letters go out than the signs go up,” Zimmer said. “I just think it detracts from the beauty of the village.”
Letters, which are required by state law, would still be sent to nearby property owners even if the sign requirement is adopted. Curry has argued that many people do not read the fine print of public notices and that some, especially senior citizens, do not have Internet access.
Signs are already required in some neighboring communities. In Oak Park the village places a 4-foot by 4-foot sign on properties to be discussed at an upcoming ZBA hearing, according to Oak Park Zoning Officer Mike Bruce. In River Forest, typically only those properties larger than 20,000-square feet are required to post signs, River Forest Village Administrator Steve Gutierrez said.
It’s unclear who might be responsible for purchasing the signs in Forest Park, installing them or what size they would be. The ZBA will continue its discussion Sept. 17.
Also at the Aug. 20 meeting, the ZBA voted 4-1 to recommend that all property owners seeking allowable modifications to nonconforming structures be permitted a hearing before the zoning administrator rather than the full ZBA. This will apply when proposed changes do not increase the degree of nonconformity and a variance is not required.
The administrative hearing process is cheaper and faster than a full ZBA hearing, according to proponents.
The ZBA also voted 4-1 to allow administrative hearings for property owners seeking to replace a nonconforming garage without changing the degree of nonconformity.
ZBA member Richard Scafidi cast the only dissenting vote on both amendments. Scafidi said he opposed changing the zoning code piecemeal, and instead would like to see a comprehensive revision.