For about two years, developer Barney O’Reilly has been trying to build townhouses in the 500 block of Elgin Avenue. His original plans should have been approved by the village – and we’re sure his attorneys would agree. But O’Reilly’s played along to get along and decided not to argue his case in court, though we understand he had a very strong argument.
O’Reilly has since revised the project, making it more dense and with smaller living spaces and a smaller yard. He also needs permission to stray outside the boundaries of the zoning code and is requesting 10 variances. O’Reilly’s plans didn’t need such special consideration in 2006 when he came to the village for an approval.
The need for so many exceptions to the zoning code is a weird twist to the village’s insistence in 2006 that O’Reilly listen to residents in the neighborhood and build something that better fit the aesthetics of the block. His 2006 proposal fell squarely in line with zoning provisions for the area, but admittedly was out of touch in terms of charm. In response to the fierce reaction O’Reilly’s 2006 proposal drew from neighboring residents, the village rezoned the area. Now it seems that O’Reilly has created a project that more neighbors approve of, but is no longer in lockstep with the village’s recently adopted vision for the street.
That sounds confusing because it is confusing.
It’s no secret that Forest Park’s zoning regulations are outdated and a poor fit for the aspirations that many residents, business owners and public officials have for the village. During the most recent local elections, the promise was made by several candidates that a careful examination of these rules would be a priority. We’re all still waiting.
Whether this particular project should be approved by the council April 14 is not a judgment this paper is willing to make. Yes, there are a number of variance requests on the table, but it’s worth noting that they’re pretty benign and largely for the sake of accommodating various aesthetic components that residents have shouted for. The height exemption would allow for the gabled roofline and the setback waiver helps create additional off-street parking, for example.
Where we will weigh in is on the apparent inability of the village to match its zoning regulations with the desires of property owners. It was less than two years ago that Forest Park adopted new zoning for the 500 block of Elgin Avenue and already we have an application that points out the glaring problems of trying to fit a patchwork of dusty old codes over a growing and vibrant community.
O’Reilly deserves a tremendous amount of credit for his patience in putting this project together. It is the responsibility of the village – much more so than the developer – to make sure that growth occurs in a reasonable fashion. O’Reilly has more than fulfilled his obligation in that respect while the village has fallen woefully short.
Once this matter is settled, the municipality should do as promised and make sure its zoning codes reflect the desires of the community.