Either there are rules in Forest Park, or there are no rules in Forest Park. Right now, it seems there are none.
On Friday afternoon, we reported online that a popular restaurant owner has built an addition to his Madison Street eatery despite having only received approval to build an outdoor patio for seasonal dining. The work so far exceeds what was presented to the municipality only a few months before that it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the original plans.
The response from village hall: “No harm, no foul.”
There will be no penalties or fines to remind this individual – and the community at large – that the rules here mean something. With maddening regularity, public officials are proving they are utterly unwilling to do their jobs when it comes to development and land use. In the last year, two village council members were discovered to have renovated their homes without the proper permits and approvals. A condo developer with a reputation for playing fast and loose left his unfinished building in such a state that a business installed gutters in the store to divert the water pouring in through the walls and ceiling.
No fines, no penalties. No harm, no foul.
The department responsible for enforcing zoning and building regulations is in a state of flux. The former director left under a cloud of unanswered questions, but has apparently signed a severance agreement that guarantees his silence. One village council member accused his colleagues of sealing the deal with “hush money.” An interim director has been installed, but he has no interest in the job and expects to retire soon. The commissioner who’s in charge of the office, Mike Curry, made it clear he would like to delay hiring a new director as a way to save money.
Curry has also said that he’s not interested in issuing fines when people violate the rules his department is supposed to be enforcing. Instead, he’d like to investigate those violations to determine the scofflaw’s intentions. Commissioner, that process already exists. It kicks in before construction begins when a property owner applies for a permit and then has to explain what it is they’d like to do. It is the same process Curry flouted when he recently renovated his home.
In all sincerity, why shouldn’t a property owner just build whatever they like and then purchase the requisite permits after the project is done?
From the village administrator to the commissioner to the department employees, Forest Park is making an absolute mockery of its own regulations. It isn’t clear who is in charge, either. For about nine months, until mid September, Forest Park was without a village administrator. During that time, Mayor Anthony Calderone reigned supreme. It was during this stretch that all of the problems identified in this editorial occurred. The tone has been set. It is every developer for themselves.