Last Thursday evening I attended a “workshop” at village hall regarding Forest Park’s forthcoming changes to zoning codes, specifically those pertaining to non-conforming uses and structures.
Discussion included questions about and clarifications of existing codes, the meaning and use of the term “legal non-conforming” as well as its legal and financial impact (there were reports of banks refusing to re-finance properties with such designations), “grandfathered” two- and three-unit buildings in areas zoned for single-family homes and issues surrounding coach houses.
I appreciate the efforts of our local code officials and village council members who organized, attended and moderated the meeting, and I was glad that at least a fair number of property owners and interested citizens turned out to listen, ask questions, raise concerns and share ideas.
As a Forest Park homeowner whose property has a coach house, however, I’m disappointed that the village, in no uncertain terms and as restated that night by Tim Gillian, still wants to see all coach houses eventually gone.
Few of Forest Park’s “coach houses” (mine included) actually fit the traditional definition of that term. But these “secondary residential structures,” as the code calls them, satisfy the needs of many students, family members, artists and those who, for whatever reason, need this kind of simple, modestly priced housing.
Also, as one resident pointed out in the meeting, more and more people today are telecommuting; home-based offices, workspaces and studios are becoming increasingly desirable, and, in some instances, necessary.
Whether we are talking about coach houses, three-flats or garden apartments, our building codes should take into account such economic, technical and social realities.
Some amount of regulation is obviously necessary in order to ensure fundamental safety, prevent over-crowding and discourage, if not eliminate, so-called “substandard housing.”
But our rules also need to leave room for healthy variation, diversity and perhaps some creativity on the part of property owners. I hope people keep this in mind as they review and rewrite our codes.