A text amendment to the Forest Park Zoning Ordinance was presented to the Village Council last night, which included changes that could officially make the zoning process much easier for owners of legal and nonconforming two-flats.

Village staff recommended the ordinance for approval, but the meeting was held after this paper’s deadline. The council’s decision, therefore, remains unknown as of press time.

If approved, though, the reform would essentially give all owners of legal, nonconforming two-flats the same rights as residents who own single family homes in Forest Park. That means two-flat building owners will now be able to build additions or make other improvements to their property just as single family homeowners can. It also means that if more than 50 percent of the two-flat is burned or destroyed, owners will now be allowed to rebuild the property as a two-flat.

“We discovered over time that a certain portion of the zoning code … presented burdensome issues when it came time for property owners wanting to do improvements or expansions,” said Mayor Anthony Calderone. “It’s going to take some of the burden off the property owners.”

One of the reasons for the amendment, Village Administrator Tim Gillian said, is that residents have been having a hard time trying to refinance or secure a loan based on the old zoning rules. 

“We get a fair amount of people trying to refinance their home or even to insure their two-flats, and more and more lenders are refusing to insure their loans if they can’t rebuild the property” in case something were to happen to it, Gillian said.

It seems as if this problem became especially apparent after the housing market tanked and more properties landed in the banks’ hands, said Sharon Daly, a Realtor who owns a Victorian two-flat in the 400 block of Marengo.

If six months passed with the building vacant while under the banks’ ownership, the bank would then be responsible for tearing down the property and rebuilding it as a single family home.

“I’m sure the lenders would say, you’re out of your mind,” Daly said.

But the new amendment also addresses the amount of time a two-flat can be vacant under situations involving acts of God, government actions and vacancies due to bankruptcy or foreclosure.

Despite what some may say, Calderone said they have been monitoring cases for awhile and the change has not been tied to foreclosures whatsoever.

“This is intended for the general good and welfare of any current day property owners,” he said. “In contrast to any foreclosure issues, we are really not focused on that.”

Overall, for Daly, it has been “a long saga” fighting the ordinance since 2005, when she said she found out she’d have to knock down her coach house and convert her two-flat if she wanted to install an extra bathroom.

“It was time to un-do this,” she said. “The result, that the ordinance is being changed, hopefully, is excellent. It is great news that this disaster is all behind us.”

As of Tuesday, however, a couple of residents were still concerned about how the proposed amendment would affect owners of coach homes.

Mark Maroney, a resident on the 800 block of Thomas, owns a coach house and was “disappointed” to discover after he moved in that there’s a chance he might have to tear it down.

“I think it adds value to my home and to the neighborhood, and I think it’s an asset,” Maroney said. “It was disheartening to hear the village was basically trying to get rid of coach houses.”

Gillian noted that nothing will change with coach houses, which will stay legal and nonconforming. However, he said “just because something is legal nonconforming does not mean that they can’t do work on their house.” They can still apply to the zoning board for any changes, Gillian said.

“The reality is that a lot of coach houses are really nice houses,” and many in the village have been approved for home improvements through the zoning process, he said.

“That will not change,” he said.

Calderone added that he is pleased with the work and the public meetings that were held to discuss the change.

“I feel that we have vetted all the issues, and we are taking some of the things we learned from that process,” he said. “Now it’s time to put a matter that’s been lingering a couple years now to rest.”