The third time was the charm for Barney O’Reilly.
The head of Cherryfield Development finally won approval from the village council for his plan to build townhouses on the now long vacant lots at 504 and 508 Elgin Avenue.
Twice before the village council has voted down O’Reilly plans for the two lots on Elgin but Monday night O’Reilly’s revised plan won approval as the village council voted 4-1 to grant the necessary variances and approve plans to build nine townhouses at the site.
The approval caps a process that took more than two years, countless meetings and hearings. O’Reilly has owned the property for 2 ½ years.
The approval came a little more than two months after the council voted to reject a previous plan by O’Reilly to build 10 townhouses on the two lots. But since that vote O’Reilly and many of the neighbors on the block forged a compromise, with the active assistance of village Commissioner Mike Curry, to reduce the number of townhouses by one and made some design changes that satisfied most of the neighbors.
“What is good about this outcome is that everybody, all the parties, reached a compromise that was acceptable and everybody gave a little,” said Linda Marianiello who lives across the street from the proposed development.
“We would have rather had eight units. That was our goal and we’re sorry that Mr. O’Reilly can’t build eight units in the current market. We’re convinced that it was financially unfeasible for him to do that so we decided to compromise and meet him at the nine unit level.”
Curry met with the residents and with O’Reilly and helped to bridge the differences.
O’Reilly first purchased the two lots, which then contained two approximately 100-year- old homes, from the estate of Sharon Calderone, the mother of Mayor Anthony Calderone, in December of 2005. The mayor was not the executor of his mother’s estate and was not a party to the sale.
In early 2006 O’Reilly proposed building 12 townhouses on the two lots, but the village council, responding to an outcry from Elgin Avenue residents, eventually rejected that plan even though it needed no variances because the street had been zoned R-3. But the village council voted 4-1 in September of 2006 to change the zoning from R-3 multifamily to R-2 medium density and thus killed the plan.
Rather than sue the village after the zoning change O’Reilly began the long process of trying to work with the neighbors to see if he could come up with a plan they would approve of. In April of this year the council again rejected a plan O’Reilly had put together voting 3-2 to reject a revised 10 unit proposal from O’Reilly.
Then Curry, who was very knowledgeable about the issue because he had been the chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals when O’Reilly made his initial proposal in 2006, got even more closely involved. He worked to forge a compromise and began acting as a sort of middleman with the neighbors and O’Reilly.
“I met with the citizens and listened to their concerns and then I met with the developer and listened to his concerns,” said Curry.
Monday night the village council granted variances for heights, density, front yard setbacks, and trees. The total height of the buildings will be 42 feet and what the village staff considered to be three stories while the R-2 zoning only allows a height of 2 ½ stories and 35 feet.
The compromise was not approved without some fireworks from the council table. Commissioner Martin Tellalian argued strongly against approving the plan and accused village staff of basing their recommendation to approve the plan on what he termed incorrect and incomplete staff analysis.
Tellalian argued that the nine-unit development was still too dense for the neighborhood.
“The proposal doesn’t meet R-2 or R-3,” said Tellalian. “I don’t think that this development is in the long term best interests of Forest Park. I think we need to be following our codes a little closer.”
Tellalian also noted that the two buildings will be effectively four stories high since the buildings will be built above ground level parking. Tellalian argued that the development goes against what is envisioned in the village’s comprehensive plan.
“When we allow these kinds of variances you don’t necessarily get tear downs of buildings that need to be torn down,” said Tellalian. “You get tear downs of buildings that should remain.”
Mike Boyle, the head of the building department, said under questioning by Tellalian that the plan meshed better with the neighborhood than previous plans.
“You have a great variety of housing in that area,” said Boyle. “They are working to make this blend as best as possible into the area.”
The townhouses will have gabled roofs and masonry constructions and the porches will face Elgin. The buildings will be higher in the back than they are in the front.
Tellalian was upset that no staff and no village council members responded to concerns that he had expressed in writing more than a week ago.
Curry said that Tellalian had made too many misstatements to enumerate. Then Tellalian got mad and fired back.
“Look if you’re going to take shots up here then come prepared and respond to these,” an angry Tellalian told Curry. “I sent these comments to the whole staff a whole week and a half ago. I received nothing back from staff or from fellow councilmen. So don’t be making statements like that when you can’t back them up.”
That’s when Calderone stepped in and called for a vote.