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Part of the charm of Madison Street in Forest Park is the variety of businesses, but also the buildings themselves. As the economy fluctuates, and trends change, balancing the desires of commercial investors and the design standards of a busy downtown can present challenges. 

At last week’s village council meeting, Steve Glinke, director of  health and safety, which includes the building department and code enforcement, said that in order to keep up with changes and fluctuations in the business and social environment, zoning codes must be “living, breathing documents,” that can be amended as need arises. 

On Aug. 26, new zoning code amendments were passed with the goal of ensuring that businesses and investors are attracted to Forest Park’s Downtown Business District (DBD) as a market for investment while also making sure there is ample opportunity for Forest Park residents and council members to approve of plans before drastic changes are made.

Two new companion projects on Madison Street, proposing to convert commercial properties into mixed-use properties by adding residential units above the ground floor, spurred the changes in Forest Park’s zoning code. Property taxes for mixed-use buildings come with lower property tax rates.

Previously, if a property owner wanted to add second story residential units above an existing commercial building, he or she could do so by right. The code amendment passed by the council on Aug. 28, however, makes such an arrangement a conditional use. That means the developer must obtain site plan approval for the project, involving a public hearing before the Plan Commission, which evaluates aesthetics, design, and the potential impacts of a project, as well as approval of the village council. 

That process, said Glinke, gives the public “two bites of the apple.”

The Review has learned that at least one of the two properties proposed for development – the former home of Jayne at 7423 Madison St. – is owned by Hook Line & Sinker LLC, according to the Cook County Recorder. The manager of that corporation is Arthur P. Sundry Jr., according to the Illinois Secretary of State records. 

Both properties are single-story commercial properties in the DBD that are “requesting build-outs on the second floor,” said Glinke. The proposal for Jayne property involves some “non-standard building materials,” said Glinke, who declined to state on the record what the non-standard building materials were. 

The second code amendment allows property owners to reduce the size of a residential dwelling unit to 600 feet in Downtown Business District. The Zoning Board of Appeals had recommended 400 square feet as the minimum size of a residential unit in the downtown district, but council members disagreed, voting unanimously instead to increase it to 600 square feet.

Glinke said this doesn’t automatically allow any developer to start building smaller residential units. Such a request would require evidence of “substantial and substantive improvement” to the property. At the village council meeting, Glinke said there is currently a “trend toward tinier dwellings” and allowing property owners to reduce the size of rental units fits that trend.

In this case, the unique circumstance is part of one of the two aforementioned projects, in which the developer wants to “incorporate into the design a nice second story deck,” said Glinke. “Therefore he’s reducing the footprint” of the dwelling area itself. 

But he reminded the council that all such requests would still come before them. It gives developers the “ability to make a case” to reduce the square footage, but doesn’t automatically give them the right to do so.

Nick Peppers, village attorney, said this zoning change is about “being proactive” and gaining “proactive control.” Like Glinke, he talked about zoning codes needing to be flexible, to respond to social and economic fluctuations. “The code needs to be adapted” as times change, he said.